Baltimore UREx Synthesis
Baltimore UREx City Team: Emma Rosi, Peter Groffman, Morgan Grove, Claire Welty, Bernice Rosenzweig, Marissa Matsler, Kristin Baja, Mike Galvin, Bob Shedlock
Existing SETS Conditions
Baltimore is located in the eastern, mid-Atlantic temperate forest ecoregion, representative of many cities in the US and the world. Originally founded in 1729, the city has experienced significant demographic, economic, and technological changes as it has transitioned from agriculture and mercantile to industrial and post-industrial economies. Over the past 50 years, the city’s population has declined from nearly 1 million to ~625,000, while the surrounding counties have grown significantly to a metropolitan population of ~2.7 million people. The region includes densely settled urban neighborhoods, suburban developments and rural residential areas, as well as industrial, agricultural, and forested land uses. In 1967, Baltimore County established the urban-rural demarcation line (URDL), which was one of the first zoning limits to urban growth in the United States. Thus, a mosaic of diverse land uses exist in near proximity in the region.
The City of Baltimore offers numerous physical, ecological, social, economic, and built contrasts and comparisons over the long term. The City straddles the Fall Line between the Coastal and Piedmont geologic zones, creating variation in topography and soils. Distinct watersheds and riparian, midslope, and hilltop vegetation assemblages are also associated with this topographic variation. Baltimore is a coastal city with projections of 0.7’ – 2.9’ of sea level rise over the next 50 years, with a low probability of rise up to 6.2’ under scenarios of rapid ice melt (Sweet et al 2017). In addition to sea level rise, precipitation has been both increasing and becoming more variable as a trend, accompanied by new phenomenon of localized micro-cells of severe precipitation. These micro-cells are short-duration, 100,000 yr. storm events and have substantial implications for built infrastructure, loss of property and lives, and governance policies and programs.
Over the past 100 years, ecological community assemblages and human interactions have been affected by a variety of pathogens, pests, reintroductions, and invasions, including chestnut blight, dutch elm disease, emerald ash borer, spotted lantern fly, lyme disease, deer, and the (Asian) tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus), which is a known disease vector for malaria and dengue. In particular, the presence of Aedes albopictus is associated with rising temperatures in the region. Rising temperatures will also affect humans and other types of ecological communities and their dynamics. In the case of humans, there is grave concern about long term trends in heatwaves, vulnerable populations, and mortality. Because Baltimore is an older city, these exogenous drivers and agents of disturbance interact with long term endogenous ecological, social, and built legacies and lags (Grove et al. 2015).
There are significant environmental-governance feedbacks in the region. The federal interagency Chesapeake Bay program sets water-related total maximum daily load (TMDL) requirements for the region at a variety of watershed scales. These watersheds are often spatially asynchronous with municipal boundaries. TMDLs currently focus on nutrients, sediments, and trash. Maryland is a “home rule” state with counties as municipalities, controlling land use planning, zoning, and capital budgets. Baltimore City is considered a county with a MS4 permit (Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System) that is controlled by the Maryland Department of the Environment and The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). New MS4 permits are granted every 5 years. Each municipality’s permit specifies formal rules and regulations (norms), programs, and infrastructure to comply with the Chesapeake Bay program’s TMDLs.
Baltimore City was one of the first cities in the United States to have a separated sanitary-stormwater system, dating to 1904 (Boone 2003). This has important implications. First, there is a terrestrial-aquatic linkage because the design of the system is for all stormwater to eventually reach the city’s streams. In other words, stormwater is not treated at a distant water treatment plant. Second, municipal governance systems are increasingly oriented towards land management practices and infrastructure that address both water quantity and water quality in order to comply with MS4 TMDL requirements.
In addition to formal governance and comparisons at the municipal scale, there are informal governance mechanisms at work in the region. Baltimore is often called a “city of neighborhoods,” with 273 distinct neighborhoods. These neighborhoods vary across a number of demographic, economic, social, environmental, and built parameters: including population and population change, race and segregation, income, education, social cohesion, vegetation, and housing form and vacancy, among others.
The region is well-suited for transdisciplinary, long term research from an organizational perspective. At the site level, Baltimore has some of the longest urban ecological data in the world because of the ongoing work of the Baltimore Ecosystem Study (BES), a Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) site. An established collaborative network of government agencies and watershed-based NGOs and community groups allows for existing partnerships to co-design and co-produce science, produce societally relevant science, and engage with diverse communities.
Socio-Ecological Systems: building on 20 years of BES LTER research
20 years of BES LTER research have produced a unique characterization of fundamental biophysical and social conditions in Baltimore with particular attention to watershed studies, repeated social surveys, and detailed mapping of land use and land cover:
- New parcel-scale research on “ecological homogenization,” funded since 2012 by the NSF Macrosystems Biology program has addressed community assembly, evolution, biogeochemical processes and social dynamics in diverse parcels as well as natural reference areas in and around six cities across the U.S. (Baltimore, Boston, Miami, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Phoenix, Los Angeles).
- Watershed studies provide a fundamental platform of long-term data on water and nutrient fluxes and how these are influenced by interactions between climate, land use and environmental regulations (Bettez et al. 2015, Duncan et al. 2017, Ni and Groffman 2018). Coupling the watershed data with the long-term social survey data on human environmental knowledge, actions and behaviors (Vemuri et al 2009, Hager et al 2013, Holtan, Dieterlen and Sullivan and 2014, Polsky et at 2014, Locke et al. In Press) and ongoing analysis of land use and land cover creates a strong platform for evaluation of long-term changes in urban ecosystem structure and function at a scale relevant to management and comparison with non-urban LTER sites.
- The parcel scale research on ecological homogenization has transformed our ability to characterize the detailed coupled social-ecological dynamics of urban ecosystems. New remote sensing and geographic tools have improved our ability to collect and aggregate data at this very fine scale, and new ideas about evolution, community assembly and human decision making provide a basis for mechanistic hypothesis testing and prediction of changes that scale from parcels to municipalities to watersheds to metropolitan regions and the continent (Groffman et al. 2017a).
Resilient Future Scenarios
Through a series of three workshops with practitioners from the Baltimore region, we have developed and refined resilient future scenarios into concrete implementation pathways.
Baltimore held the first urban future scenarios workshop in June 2018 with over 50 practitioners and researchers from local, state, and federal agencies, local and regional non-governmental organizations, local universities, local businesses, and professional designers. We co-produced six future scenarios for the Central Maryland region (a larger scale that other UREx SRN cities which included the City of Baltimore and surrounding counties) in the year 2080, including adaptation to Coastal Flooding, Urban Heat Stress, Urban Flooding, and Cascading Multi-Hazards, as well as a Sustainable Eco-Region.
We convened a second workshop in June 2019 with a smaller group of participants that built on the results of the first workshop. Practitioners from the region worked individually and in groups to prioritize strategies from the first workshop using three separate criteria: relevance, do-ability, and creating transformative changes. The two top strategies that received the most votes across all three categories were 1) Green-based economy with solar powered micro-grids and green infrastructure and 2) Integrated cross-jurisdictional regional watershed management.
A third workshop was held in December 2019 to dig deeper into implementation potential of the highest priority strategies identified in the second workshop. Teams of practitioners again worked together to co-produce implementation timelines, focusing on near-term next steps.
The Baltimore research team worked closely with members of the EPA’s Urban Waters Federal Partnership in the Baltimore region. Urban Waters hosted two of UREx workshops and contributed to the design of the first workshop.
The following products summarize the three workshops that explored future resilience scenarios in the Baltimore region:
- A report summarizing the main goals and strategies for each scenario co-produced in Workshop 1
- A report summarizing Priority Resilience Strategies discussed in Workshop 2
- A report summarizing the near-term next steps and timelines co-produced in Workshop 3
- UREx Scenarios
Green infrastructure implementation is growing in Baltimore. At the state level, environmental site design (ESD) has been an important requirement for stormwater management for over a decade. Many of the facilities encouraged through the state’s stormwater manual are also considered green infrastructure facilities. Additionally, the City of Baltimore recently completed the Green Network Plan to “strengthen communities by creating an interconnected network of greenspaces throughout the City.”
We have sought to examine green infrastructure in Baltimore by bringing together Social (S), Ecological (E), and Technological (T) dimensions using a unified SETS framework.
Figure 1 displays the range of facility types found in GI conceptions across the UREx SRN cities. These facilities are organized as a spectrum by the proportion of each that is biological, representing an actual ecological structure and function. This is the “eco” side of the spectrum. On the “techno” side of the spectrum, facilities consist primarily or completely of human-made technological components that mimic ecological functions.
GI is often considered a “win-win” policy strategy: it has the potential to reduce flooding from storm events, mitigate extreme heat, decrease the amount of energy and resources necessary to address these problems, while also providing aesthetic values and sense of place to human communities. However, examining GI as complete SETS can point to the shortcomings of different facility types in providing the full range of co-benefits.
The following products summarize green infrastructure research Baltimore:
- McPhillips and Matsler 2019
- Baker et al 2019
- Rivers 2018
Flooding is a priority issue in Baltimore. Baltimore’s creeks, waterfalls and harbor along the Chesapeake Bay are integral to the city’s culture and economy but also present flooding hazards during extreme weather events.The Urban Flooding Task Force is conducting comparative research on flooding in Baltimore and the other UREx SRN cities. In addition, UREx researchers are collaborating with Baltimore practitioners to develop numerical models of stormwater flooding within the city.
In addition to research, the UREx SRN produced a Future Cities Podcast episode on Flash Flooding in Baltimore during a cloudburst (short duration, high-intensity rainfall event) in 2018.