More than half the world's population now lives in urban areas and that figure is projected to increase in the future. Increasing urban populations have resulted in tremendous pressure on urban environments including urban forests, or all the vegetation in an urban area, which provide important positive externalities to urban residents. Yet, urban growth has resulted in a decline in urban forest structure and related function in the United States, elevating the importance of research to understand how the interactions between people, their institutions, and the biophysical environment influence the sustainability of urban ecosystems.

Drawing upon recent research by urban ecologists, and utilizing the Social Ecological Systems (SES) Framework (Ostrom 2009), CIPEC researchers are addressing the biophysical, social, and institutional (rules, norms, and strategies) factors that influence the sustainability of urban forests in Indiana. Current research in Bloomington, Indiana addresses the influence of municipal governance as well as neighborhood and homeowners associations on the structure of urban forests at both the parcel and neighborhood scale. This analysis utilizes urban forest mensuration, land cover classification of remotely sensed imagery, GIS analysis, a household survey, and key informant interviews.  These components are integrated with an institutional analysis of household rules-in-use, association by-laws, and municipal development/planning agreements. A fundamental goal of this research is to investigate the relative influence of household-level decision-making and community-level institutions on urban forest systems. Additional urban ecosystems research projects include analysis of the influence of municipal zoning institutions on tree canopy cover in Bloomington, Indiana (preliminary results were presented at the 2010 Urbanization and Global Environmental Change Conference), as well as analysis of social-ecological system factors influencing tree success in Indianapolis, Indiana neighborhood-initiated tree plantings.

Bloomington, Indiana land cover classification utilizing 2008 imagery from the National Agriculture Inventory Program (NAIP)

Research has been supported by grants from the Indiana Community and Urban Forestry Program (Division of Forestry), the Indiana University Center for Research in Environmental Science, the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs Sustainability Award, and the Garden Club of America Fellowship in Urban Forestry (awarded to Sarah Mincey).