Determining an appropriate geographic level of scale for inquiry


Name: Joanne Tippett

Course: PL701 Research Methodology Workshop

Tutor: Dr. Williams

Date: January 15th, 2000


PhD Supervisors: John Handley, Joe Ravetz,  Jeff Hinchcliffe (Mersey Basin Campaign)

Submitted as course work for Masters in Economic and Social Research

University of Manchester School of Planning and Landscape


Context 2

What is scale?_ 3

Choosing an appropriate scale_ 3

Research methodology and scale 3

Action based research and scale 3

Which scale? 4

Effective scale for intervention 4

Research methodology considerations 4

Where on the scale? 4

Macro-scale – Regional 5

Effective scale for intervention 5

Research methodology considerations 6

Micro-scale – Site or ecotope level 7

Effective scale for intervention 7

Research methodology considerations 8

The paradox of scale - landscape as mediator 8

Meso-scale - Landscape 9

Effective scale for intervention 9

Research methodology considerations 10

Systems and hierarchy theory 10

Conclusion_ 11

References 12



Issues of scale are increasingly being recognized as important in research into social and natural phenomena, and in particular, in research that concerns ecological sustainability [1] and social participation. There are many factors that influence this shift.


Over the last three decades, there has been an increasing awareness that local actions can have regional and global effects, and in turn local environmental issues can be affected by regional and global environmental change. Many environmental problems have only become apparent over time, due to delays between cause and discernible effect. This lag is further complicated by the fact that global climate change, pollutants and ecological problems cross boundaries of scale, so that effects from a source of pollution or a human activity that intervenes in ecological processes may be manifested at a different level of scale than the cause (Gibson, Ostrom et al. 2000) . Scientists are gaining a better understanding of the inherently trans-media, trans-sectoral and trans-scale nature of many of the pollutants that are being released into the environment (Kidd 2000, pg. 356) .


As more and more governmental agencies, NGO’s, companies, communities and individuals are taking on management and planning polices with the themes of improving ecological integrity, social equity and long term economic vitality as their organizing principles, the concept of sustainable development [2] is gaining relevance as a research agenda. This has lead to a call for increasing integration of social science and natural science research. Interdisciplinary research of this kind has been hampered by problems of communication between disciplines. In their recent survey of the concept of scale and global environmental change, Gibson, Ostrom and Ahn state that the concept of scale is ‘one of the most important conceptual challenges to that union’, and suggest that this is partly due to different definitions and interpretations of scale and different methodological approaches used when dealing with complex subjects at different levels of scale (Gibson, Ostrom et al. 2000, pg. 236) .


At the same time as there is an increasing awareness of the importance of scale in research, shifts in technology are changing our relationship to data gathering and analysis at different levels of scale (Black, Strand et al. 1998) . The use of Geographic Information Systems, complex computer modelling programs, and remote sensing equipment permit storage and analysis of greater quantities of data and a greater ease of arranging and synthesising layers of information in complex arrangements of scale and interaction (Bartel 2000) .


My research project focuses on a participatory protocol for ecologically informed planning and design. This is an action based research project, in which I will be facilitating a design process with community and business groups. The research is characterized by the following assumptions: sustainability offers a valid and important conceptual framework for planning and design, public participation in this process is advantageous and an interdisciplinary approach is essential to understand the complex issues involved in sustainable planning.


What is scale?     

There are many definitions of scale and level, which are often used interchangeably.  In this paper, I will use the definitions put forward by (Gibson, Ostrom et al. 2000) : Scale is “the spatial, temporal, quantitative, or analytical dimensions used by scientists to measure and study objects and processes”. The term level refers to “locations along a scale” (pg. 219).


Scales are characterized by both extent, or magnitude of dimension, (e.g. the temporal extent could be a day, a year or 100 years) and resolution, or the degree of precision in measurement (e.g. for space the measurement could be at a fine resolution, or grain, such as a meter, to a course resolution, or larger aggregation of units, such as at thousands of hectares) (Gibson, Ostrom et al. 2000, pg. 219) .


The concept of hierarchy is important in many studies involving scale. A hierarchy is “a conceptually or causally linked system of grouping objects or process along an analytical scale (Gibson, Ostrom et al. 2000, pg. 218) . An example of a hierarchy is household, neighbourhood, community, town and region.


Choosing an appropriate scale

Research methodology  and scale

The questions we ask determine to a large extent the answers we find. The way we look for data also has a considerable effect on what we see (Bartel 2000) and the tools we use to gather and analyse data have a filtering effect on our ability to comprehend the totality of the phenomena under observation (Linehan and Gross 1998) . Scale issues have a strong bearing on research methodology. The scale of a study, the extent, or magnitude of the study and the resolution used for data gathering affect the identification of patterns and relationships, as certain patterns that can be discerned at one level of scale may not be apparent when observed at a coarser or finer resolution. Issues of scale also affect explanation of causal processes between the patterns identified and the ability to generalise research conclusions (Gibson, Ostrom et al. 2000) .


A close attention to issues of scale can assist in being able to apply propositions or theories from one level of scale to another level (of the same scale) (Gibson, Ostrom et al. 2000) . A focus on characteristics at particular scales assist in making comparisons between different phenomenon at similar levels of scale, such that, for instance, ecologically similar sub regions in different geographic locations can be meaningfully compared (Freemark 1995, pg. 109; Handley, Wood et al. 1998) .


Action based research and scale

In an action research project, research design needs to take into account both the validity and reliability of the research process and the effectiveness of the intervention in the ‘system-under-study’. An effective intervention, in this case, the design process itself, can be evaluated by whether or not the planning and participants’ goals are met, both in substantive outcomes and in a qualitative assessment of stakeholders' perceptions [3] . Effectiveness may also be evaluated against criteria of success such as sustainability indicators (Rijsberman and van de Ven 2000) .


Choice of scale is important for both of these areas of concern. There are two basic choices in determining an appropriate scale for enquiry. The first is which scale to use and how it is defined. This involves the analytical dimension and criteria for discerning scale. The second is determining what level of scale to focus on, or position along the axis.


Which scale?

There are many different criteria, or dimensions, that can be used to determine scale, such as spatial, temporal and conceptual ranges.

Effective scale for intervention

 As an exercise in land planning, this research project will focus on a geographical spatial unit of analysis, which has a basis in an absolute [4] concept of space. However the criteria used to discern units in the landscape for the field study will not simply be based on absolute categories of increasing spatial scale.


In order to facilitate more effective interdisciplinary work, spatial delineation of scale may need to be combined with other factors, such as ecological integrity, landform, vegetation type, social-cultural perceptions and historical influences on the landscape.


For effective management, attention needs to be paid to matching of spatial and temporal scales, so that processes and plans along both dimensions are understood in relationship (Vos and Meekes 1999) . Consideration of administrative boundaries and management mechanisms is essential for effective implementation of plans (Handley, Wood et al. 1998; Prato 2000) .

Research methodology considerations

Attention should be paid to delineating scale with an appropriate integration of an absolute and measurable axis with more qualitative, or relative [5] characteristics suitable to the research question, and to the proposed methods for gathering and analysing data (Hobbs 1997) .


Where on the scale?

In this section, I will discuss some of the important factors that affect the effectiveness of both intervention and research methodology when choosing an appropriate level of scale for research. I will look at three different levels [6] of scale: regional [7] , landscape [8] and ecotope [9] . [10] .


First I will contrast the major advantages and disadvantages of working at a very large, or macro-scale (regional) with a micro-level of scale (a particular project site or an ecotope). This will be followed by a discussion of action research at a meso [11] -level, the landscape level of scale. For each level of scale, I will discuss issues pertaining to both effective intervention and research methodology.


In a consideration of the likely outcome and effectiveness of action research with the goal of enhancing sustainability at each level of scale, four [12] different factors s   should be considered:


  1. Ecological integrity
  2. Economically productive resource base and infrastructure [13]
  3. Effective public participation
  4. Management and policy considerations


Macro-scale – Regional

Revived interest in regional design in the U.K. is evidenced by increasing emphasis given to Regional Planning Guidance and the creation of new regional governance mechanisms (Handley, Wood et al. 1998) (Therivel and Partidario 2000) .

Effective scale for intervention

Planning at a regional scale offers many advantages, in particular an ability to make decisions that increase effectiveness of projects and planning initiated at a smaller level of scale, due to a ‘big picture’ focus, the ability to plan for multiple benefits and the ability to develop a strategic vision that can provide a coordinating framework for actions on a smaller scale. The existence of a large-scale strategic plan can make smaller scale projects more efficient, as data can be collected from the overall initial assessment. This can help to streamline project planning and evaluation, such as environmental impact assessments, at a lower level of scale, which can lead to cost savings at the project level (Brooke 2000) . These advantages are behind an increased interest in, and governmental call for, Strategic Environmental Assessments of policies, plans and programmes at a large level of scale (Verheem 2000) . This strategic assessment can help to identify conflicting objectives and knowledge gaps, which could directly impact planning at a smaller level of scale and suggest fruitful areas for research and data gathering.


Ecological integrity

There are significant advantages to planning for ecological integrity at large levels of scale. Research into threats to biodiversity suggests that not only is the total habitat area available to species important, but also the degree to which the habitat areas are spatially connected (Steiner, Blair et al. 2000) (Baschak and Brown 1995) . Connectivity is important to extend the range over which organisms can travel in the landscape, increasing their ability to respond to stress in a particular area, and in the case of larger animals, extending their feeding and habitat range by making movement throughout a larger landscape possible (Peterken 2000, pg. 299) . The importance of spatial coherence for preserving biodiversity was introduced with the theories of island biogeography (the effects of habitat fragmentation on populations) and metapopulation theory (Jongman 1995, pg. 171) .


The design of connected systems of wildlife corridors requires large scale planning to identify important areas of habitat and to locate appropriate corridors for creation of wildlife corridors (Rookwood 1995) .


Due to issues of resolution and the coarse grain of analysis, policies and plans at the large scale can be insensitive to the integrity of ecosystems and valued characteristics in the landscape at a smaller level of scale (Handley, Wood et al. 1998) .


Economically productive resource base and infrastructure

When trying to conceive and implement sustainable plans, there are many advantages to operating at a regional level of scale. Hawken, Lovins et al. (1999) discuss the advantages of whole system optimisation, where solutions can be found to problems that would not be possible at a smaller level of scale. This is particularly the case for issues dealing with infrastructure, such as transport, renewable energy supply and water provision (Marshall 1998) . Efficient use of resources is often possible, such that multiple functions can be found for the same infrastructure development, and resources for development can be concentrated into areas with the greater possibility of success.


Effective Public Participation

Whilst important for ascertaining values and goals to guide strategic decisions, engaging effective public participation at the regional level of scale poses many problems. It is difficult for people to engage with the concept of a region, and thus to see the relevance of policy actions to their interests and concerns, a difficulty exacerbated by the often abstract nature of the policy issues at this level of scale (von Seht 1999) .


The large number of people involved makes it hard to coordinate a planning process, and there are inevitably issues of selective representation and the need for mechanisms to effectively integrate a large range of stakeholder groups. It is costly and time consuming to coordinate effective communication to keep stakeholders informed of the complex range of issues.


Management and policy considerations

There are many difficulties implementing changes on a large level of scale. Land tends to be fragmented into many different ownership patterns, such that plans can be difficult to enact. There are often many different jurisdictions and governance bodies involved, increasing the difficulties of coordinated cross-sectoral action. It is a challenge to match the level of scale of planning to the appropriate level of scale for implementation.

Research methodology considerations

From a research methodology point of view, large-scale studies offer many advantages in terms of a wide range of data, and an enhanced possibility to discern causal patterns (Bartel 2000) . Problem solving and action-based research at the large scale can enhance the scope for interdisciplinary work, in particular the possibility of cross-fertilization between the social and natural sciences.


With regards to coordination of research projects and data sets, a regional scale may allow for increased ability to coordinate research results from multiple projects and more availability of ecological, spatial and social information that can facilitate better research at lower levels of scale.

Research at a large level of scale poses problems concerning the nature of scientific methods and how we construct theory and test concepts. Results tends to be characterized by reduced precision and predictive certainty (Funtowicz and Ravetz 1994; Tacconi 1998; O'Connor 2000) .


At a large level of scale, is very difficult to perform experiments (in the sense of controlled scientific tests of hypotheses) (Hobbs 1997, pg. 3) . The multiplicity of interacting factors lead to problems formulating hypotheses about direct causal relationships. It is difficult to deal adequately with co-varying factors in experimental design. It is very difficult to carry out broad scale changes in an area on an experimental basis, and difficult to coordinate a control test, due to differing ecological, cultural, land management and administrative factors in different areas (Vos and Meekes 1999, pg. 11) .

Micro-scale – Site or ecotope level

Effective scale for intervention

This is the level of scale at which projects are often implemented. Implementation is usually associated with development projects, building sites (Kidd 2000, pg. 355) and agricultural or landscape interventions by land managers in the course of managing their resource base.


Ecological integrity

Land management practices at the site level have an important role to play in terms of maintaining local landscape diversity and providing a detailed knowledge of species and special characteristics in an area.


A narrow focus on the local level of scale, however, will reduce opportunities to protect and enhance resilient interconnected ecosystems and develop multiple benefits and synergies due to increased spatial connectivity.


Economically productive resource base and infrastructure

Many steps can be taken to reduce negative effects on the environment at the site level of scale, especially with regards to through-flows of energy and materials, which are affected by purchasing and management decisions, and which in aggregate have a profound impact on the environment.


However, on a small level of scale, there are few opportunities for designing interconnected industrial ecology networks and integrated raw material and waste flows, largely due to the lack of diversity of industrially productive elements.


On a farm site surrounded by simplified agricultural systems, which is not spatially connected to a larger ecological habitat network, organic agricultural practices, attempts to maintain a healthy ecosystem and to mitigate harmful effects from pests and diseases are likely to be difficult and to require a high level of human interaction and management (Altieri 1987) . This is partly due to the fact that in small, fragmented ecosystems, biodiversity tends to fall, so the farmer will have to actively intervene to maintain biological diversity. There is also likely to be greater imbalances of pest populations in the surrounding areas, induced by monoculture practices (York 2000) .


Effective Public Participation

People can see a direct relevance to their community and to their lives, so are more likely to wish to be involved in planning at a local level of scale. Numbers of participants are relatively small, and thus effective participation is more easily coordinated.


Management and policy considerations

It is easier to link research and planning to action on the ground (Kidd 2000, pg. 356) , due to a number of factors, which include: ability of landowners to enact plans on their own land, lower cost of interventions and less administrative complexity.

Research methodology considerations

Finer scale analyses allow for testing hypotheses in a way that produces more easily controlled results (Black, Strand et al. 1998, pg. 58) . There are fewer variable and interactions at this level of scale, so data is easier to collect and interpret. Precision of assessment is more likely. (Vos and Meekes 1999, pg. 11) state “most scientific results originate from lower levels of scale (plots, small regions) but need to be upscaled to larger scale domains (e.g. international levels)”. In his survey on Landscape Ecology research, Hobbs (1997, pg. 3) questions whether “small scale studies can be reliably extrapolated to larger scales”.


An exclusive concern with easily controlled and described casual relationships at a micro-level may lead to misleading results, failing to take into account contextual concerns and possible casual mechanisms operating on the study phenomena from a larger level of scale.


The paradox of scale - landscape as mediator

"Success in attaining sustainability is more probable for a region. Yet, landscapes offer significant advantages. ...Planning, conservation and policy are more likely to make a difference, i.e. to have a visible effect (Forman 1998, pg. 514) ."


This overview of issues relating to effective planning for sustainability at two very contrasting levels of scale can be summarized as the following trade-offs of advantages and disadvantages at each level of scale:


Large scale

For sustainable natural resource development integrated with ecological protection and restoration, there is a higher degree of likelihood of success, although local distinctiveness and small-grained issues may be neglected.


Small scale

There is a higher degree of interest and engagement in participation. Simpler ownership and administrative structures allow for effective implementation of projects. Without the coordinating factor of larger scale planning, much of the actions may be sub-optimal in nature and may not really address the causes of the problems. There is a greater tendency to treat easily perceptible symptoms of problems rather than underlying causes, which may be acting at a different level of temporal and geographical scale and are thus harder to perceive.

Meso-scale - Landscape

While designing at the landscape scale may seem to offer merely a balance or middle ground between the advantages and disadvantages of designing at the larger and smaller levels of scale, landscapes have characteristics that offer specific advantages. In his article Future landscapes and the future of landscape ecology, Hobbs (1997, pg. 1) echoes other researchers suggesting, “There is an “increasing recognition that many conservation and land-use issues can only be tackled in a sensitive way within a landscape framework”.  The importance of intervention at the landscape level of scale was underscored at a recent conferences entitled Landscapes and Sustainability, the European workshop on landscape assessment as a policy tool (Conservation and Agency 1999) and in the technical report: The Face of Europe – Policy Perspectives for European Landscapes (Wascher 2000) .


Effective scale for intervention
Ecological integrity

Increasingly, ecologists see that effective protection of biodiversity needs to be focused on a landscape scale (Rookwood 1995) (Handley, Wood et al. 1998) . This level of focus can help to optimise spatial decisions, such as where to locate an ecological mitigation act (e.g. wetland reconstruction) for maximum beneficial effect (ecological, aesthetic and cultural) (Boothby 2000) , how to go about land restoration in the most beneficial way, e.g. deciding where to plant trees in reforestation efforts (Peterken 2000; Smithers 2000) and how to increase horizontal connectivity between important habitats in the landscape.


A comprehensive assessment of the landscape can identify areas of ecological importance that need to be protected, and can also pay attention to protecting the integrity of vital ecological processes, such as water filtration and cleansing in the landscape, that operate at a larger level of scale than any one site or ecotope.

Economically productive resource base and infrastructure

Landscapes provide an important level of scale for the articulation of productive industrial ecology and agri-environmental systems. The resolution is fine enough that specific elements in the landscape, resource flows and infrastructure projects can be considered.

At a large scale there is a high diversity of elements and productive activities, this heterogeneity offers opportunities for creating functional relationships and synergetic flows of materials and nutrients between various production processes in the landscape. The level of geographic scale is small enough to allow for effective flows of material and matching or resource productivity to inputs and creation of closed loop cycling and composting flows (Tibbs 1993; Lyle 1994) , without a vast infrastructure or use of fossil fuels to move resources over very large distances.


Effective Public Participation

Landscapes offer a geographical unit that participants can relate to and comprehend (Roe 2000) (Lewis 1996; Wood, Handley et al. 1999) . Participants are acquainted with (and likely to be concerned about) local issues and concerns (Handley, Wood et al. 1998) , and are likely to be able to discern relevant connections between their own sites and projects and the immediate landscape in which they are embedded. A landscape focus on identifying and enhancing areas of important cultural, aesthetic, historical and recreational significance can help to increase the perceived relevance and importance of public participation in planning activities (Black, Strand et al. 1998) . The number of stakeholder groups is less than for a region (though the range of active engagement and potential interest groups is possibly broader), so coordination of participation is somewhat less constrained by practical factors.


Management and policy considerations

The integration of regional policies at a landscape level of scale can allow for a link between small scale planning, analysis and richness of detailed knowledge (such as is shown in the ’countryside character areas’ (Commission and Nature 1996) ) and the strategic issues perceived as important at the regional scale. This level of integration provides mechanisms for regional plans to be translated into action in a more easily comprehensible way (Handley, Wood et al. 1998) (Kidd 2000) . The landscape level of scale is important for providing context for site management and developments. It offers a mechanism for translating local and project level issues into coordinated action.


Many of the difficulties of implementing regional plans still exist, but these are somewhat mitigated by the smaller level of scale and decreased jurisdictional complexity.

Research methodology considerations

While a landscape level of scale can offer a balance between some of the advantages and disadvantages of researching at either a micro or macro level of scale, many of the issues related to difficulties of experimentation, predictability and precision are similar to researching at the regional level of scale.


There are many complex factors in choosing an effective level of scale for intervention and research methodology. This suggests that the question of which is an appropriate level of scale for inquiry is not a simple question. The theoretical framework of systems theory offers a possible mechanism for overcoming some of these concerns (de Rosnay 1975; De Marchi, Funtowicz et al. 2000) (Naveh and Lieberman 1994; Robert 2000) . 


Systems and hierarchy theory

Systems theory is recognized as a potential tool for organizing research about complex, multi-scaled phenomenon (Delin 1979; Robert 2000) (de Rosnay 1975; Naveh and Lieberman 1994; Meadows 1998; Naveh 2000) as well as for action research, in which the researcher is an inextricable part of the system under study (Checkland 1991; Baskerville and Wood-Harper 1996) .


A system is “an integrated whole whose essential properties arise from the relationships between its parts, and ‘systems thinking’ the understanding of a phenomenon within the context of a larger whole” (Capra 1996, pg. 27) . 


One of the important theoretical concepts to emerge from systems theory is that of causal relationships acting at different levels of scale. Thus, a phenomena observed at one level of scale may have been caused by (or strongly influenced by) a factor at another level of scale, which may not be noticed due to the limits on observation of the study’s focus. The concepts of hierarchy in systems theory provide useful insights for research into interactions across levels of scales.


Hierarchy theory is concerned with the relationships between different levels of scale, and in particular what is different between one level of complexity and another. This is related to the concept of emergence, or the appearance of characteristics from a relationship of parts that is not merely an additive property of the characteristics of the lower parts, but is a new, or emerging property of that particular level of organisation. This axiom that ‘the whole is more than the sum of the parts” is a basic philosophical assumption of systems theory. (Checkland 1991; Capra 1996; Gibson, Ostrom et al. 2000) . An understanding of emergent properties leads to the system description of each lower level of complexity as nested in a higher level of complexity, in which it is a part, but which is itself made up of smaller systems, for example the nested hierarchy of: organelle, cell, organ, organism, population, community, ecosystem. (Koestler 1969) suggested that when looking at complex systems, neither parts nor wholes in a absolute sense exist, they are conceptual categories which we use to divide the world, but rather what we are looking at is “intermediary structures on a series of levels in ascending order of complexity, each of which has two faces looking in opposite directions. The face turned towards the lower levels is that of an autonomous whole, the one turned upwards is that of a dependent part” (Naveh and Lieberman 1994, pg. 51) . He coined the term ‘holon’ to describe these entities, with Janus – like characteristics (faces turning in two directions) from the Greek word ‘holos’ or whole, and the suffix –on, such as in proton or neutron, reminiscent of ‘particle or part’ (Naveh and Lieberman 1994) .


This theoretical viewpoint leads to an understanding that descriptions of reality must of necessity involve analysis at several levels of complexity at once, or linked in an iterative cycle. This is a central idea in hierarchy theory that analysis and comprehension of any complex system requires “understanding the constraints at higher and lower levels of spatial-temporal resolution” (Gibson, Ostrom et al. 2000, pg. 225) .


There are several research projects that explicitly use a multi-scaled approach, as exemplified in the research program of the (MULTISCALE EXPERIMENTAL ECOSYSTEM RESEARCH CENTER 2000) , which focuses on ecological modelling and impacts of marine resources, but aims to develop multi-scale methodologies applicable to other ecological research projects. Research into implementation of Strategic Environmental Impact Assessments points to the importance of ‘tiering’ analysis and decision making to appropriate levels of scale, with an increased focus on integrating decision making across different levels of scale, thus maximising the strategic impact of projects and plans (Bass and Herson 2000) . Research funded by the US EPA and the US Department of Agriculture, Midwest Agricultural Surface/subsurface Transport and Effects research (MASTER) on environmental degradation as a result of modern agriculture has explicitly developed a hierarchical and multileveled approach, with most of the research laboratories working on projects at three hierarchical levels of scale, the local, watershed and regional (Freemark 1995, pg. 107) .


From this discussion, it can be seen that planning for sustainable development at the landscape level of scale poses many advantages from the point of view of sustainable development, helping in some ways to reconcile the advantages and disadvantages of working at either a very large or small level of scale. Effective planning will also require a focus on multiple levels of scale, attempting to incorporate important strategic issues at a larger level of scale into the planning process at the same time as trying to increase multiple benefits from the intervention for other projects in the region. Issues of scale in such a planning process require careful consideration, and integrating multi-scaled issues into the planning process requires further research, with a particular focus on timing of different levels of scale in the process and mechanisms for incorporating a tiered approach.


Research into the nature of complex systems offers some possible methodologies and concepts to assist in overcoming problems associated with research methodology at the meso and macro levels of scale. There is a growing body of literature both in the systems research, ecological economics and landscape ecology fields that deal with methodological issues related to scale and research into complex systems. This research suggests the importance of working at multiple levels of scale, which can help to increase both the effectiveness of action based research and the epistemological difficulties associated with working at larger levels of scale. It suggests the need for further research into effective coordination between various policy, planning and research agencies and into effective ways in which to organise, categorise, store and increase access to information from different levels of scale. Multiple feedback loops between research findings at various levels of scale may assist in increasing the quality of information available for future research projects and sustainability programs.



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[1] The concept of sustainability emerges from the integration of economic vitality, environmental health and

social equity.

[2] Sustainable development can be defined as: ‘a dynamic process which enables all people to realize their potential and to improve their quality of life in ways which simultaneously protect and enhance the Earth’s life support systems’ Future, F. f. t. (1998). Opportunities for Change, A response by Forum for the Future to the consultation paper on a revised UK strategy for sustainable development. Cheltenham, Forum for the Future. . It is a process of moving towards sustainability.


[3] The range of stakeholders may be broader than the actual participants. Including a broader range of stakeholder assessment of the plans produced may provide a mechanism for evaluating the plans without the colouring given by actual involvement in the planning process.


[4] An absolute scale has an existence independent from the phenomenon under observation, e.g. absolute spatial scales which are used to define an object’s location. Mapping and cartography usually use an absolute spatial scale based on a Cartesian grid Gibson, C. C., E. Ostrom, et al. (2000). “The concept of scale and the human dimensions of global change: a survey.” Ecological Economics(32): 217 - 239. .

[5] A relative scale is defined by the phenomenon under study. Behavioural geography has paid particular attention to relative space, or ‘a positional quality of the world of material objects or events’  Harvey, D. (1969). Explanation in Geography. New York, St. Martin's Press, Gibson, C. C., E. Ostrom, et al. (2000). “The concept of scale and the human dimensions of global change: a survey.” Ecological Economics(32): 217 - 239. .

[6] At this stage, I am using a rough delineation of scale, based on the literature, as the precise definitions of the scale will need to be worked out in the action research process according to the criteria described above.

[7] ). A region is a broad geographical area with common features, and can be defined by a combination of administrative and political boundaries, cultural and historical factors, broad landform, macroclimate and vegetation types Forman, R. T. T. (1998). Land Mosaics, The Ecology of Landscapes and Regions. Cambridge (UK), Cambridge University Press. .

[8]   Landscape as a delineation of geographical scale can be defined as a sub-regional category of geographical scale that incorporates smaller ecotopes, and is a coherent, recognisable unit, such as a river catchment basin Ibid. . Landscapes are at least several kilometres across Kidd, S. (2000). “Landscape Planning at the Regional Scale: an example from North West England.” Landscape Research 25(3): 355 - 364. .

[9] An ecotope is “the smallest, above-organismic, homogenous, and mapable landscape unit” Naveh, Z. (2000). “What is holistic landscape ecology? A conceptual introduction.” Landscape and Urban Planning 50(1): 7-26. .

[10] Although there are relevant policy and research issues pertaining to sustainable development at the international, federal (e.g. European Union) and national level of scales, I will not focus on these issues, as at this level of scale the sustainability issues are more likely to be dealt with through policies, treaties and regulations than through spatial/structural design.

[11] Meso- middle.

[12] While cultural and social concerns are also important factors, they fall outside of the scope of this paper.

[13] This refers to economic forms of production in the broadest sense, the ways in which humans interact with the environment to meet their needs, through activities such as agriculture, industrial processing, forestry and waste processing. Sustainable design implies that these needs can be met in a way that integrates with ecological processes thus reducing negative impacts on the global environment and protecting, possibly even enhancing, local landscapes.