Plants, People, Planet (Nov 2021)

Ethical considerations of urban ecological design and planning experiments

  • Diane E. Pataki,
  • Carlos G. Santana,
  • Sarah J. Hinners,
  • Alexander J. Felson,
  • Jesse Engebretson

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 3, no. 6
pp. 737 – 746


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Societal Impact Statement It is increasingly common for plant scientists and urban planning and design professionals to collaborate on interdisciplinary teams that integrate scientific experiments into public and social urban spaces. However, neither the procedural ethics that govern scientific experimentation, nor the professional ethics of urban design and planning practice, fully account for the possible impacts of urban ecological experiments on local residents and communities. Scientists that participate in design and planning teams act as decision‐makers, and must expand their domain of ethical consideration accordingly. Conversely, practitioners who engage in ecological experiments take on the moral responsibilities inherent in generation of knowledge. To avoid potential harm to human and non‐human inhabitants of cities while maintaining scientific and professional integrity in research and practice, an integrated ethical framework is needed for urban ecological planning and design. Summary While there are many ethical and procedural guidelines for scientists who wish to inform decision‐making and public policy, urban ecologists are increasingly embedded in planning and design teams to integrate scientific measurements and experiments into urban landscapes. These scientists are not just informing decision‐making – they are themselves acting as decision‐makers. As such, researchers take on additional moral obligations beyond scientific procedural ethics when designing and conducting ecological design and planning experiments. We describe the growing field of urban ecological design and planning and present a framework for expanding the ethical considerations of socioecological researchers and urban practitioners who collaborate on interdisciplinary teams. Drawing on existing ethical frameworks from a range of disciplines, we outline possible ways in which ecologists, social scientists, and practitioners should expand the traditional ethical considerations of their work to ensure that urban residents, communities, and non‐human entities are not harmed as researchers and practitioners carry out their individual obligations to clients, municipalities, and scientific practice. We present an integrated framework to aid in the development of ethical codes for research, practice, and education in integrated urban ecology, socioenvironmental sciences, and design and planning.