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Race, Ethnicity, and Urban Land Use Decision-Baltimore Ecosystem Study




History of an Unlevel Playing Field


[01:41] Introduction of Morgan Grove.

[02:05] Morgan explains what the Baltimore Ecosystem Study (BES) is.

[03:13] Who is participating in the Baltimore Ecosystem Study?

[04:07] Morgan shares what his role is on the BES team.

[05:06] Morgan describes some of the sub-projects he’s working on.

[07:40] Morgan shares the connections between economic and social inequality and diminished access to nature.

[15:20] Morgan talks about health disparities and other quality-of-life indicators.

[17:42] What have been the most unexpected findings from the BES so far?

[19:36] Morgan explains how we can overcome the misunderstanding of white people to the persistence of the disempowerment of African Americans throughout history.

[23:35] Morgan shares where to learn more about the BES.

[24:27] Morgan shares where to find his book, “The Baltimore School of Urban Ecology.”

[24:58] Morgan shares one change that would lead to smarter, more sustainable, and more equitable communities.

[25:12] Morgan describes the action listeners can take to help build a more equitable and sustainable future.

[25:49] Morgan explains what Baltimore city and the Chesapeake Bay looks like 30 years from now.


Morgan Grove is a social scientist and Team Leader for the USDA Forest Service’s Baltimore Urban Field Station. Morgan has worked in Baltimore since 1989, with the Forest Service since 1996, and has been a Co-Principal Investigator in the Baltimore Ecosystem Study (BES) since its beginning in 1997.

Learn More about Morgan Here


The Baltimore Ecosystem Study is a long-term ecological research project. It is funded by the National Science Foundation to learn how an urban area works as an ecological system. We want to know the ecological interactions in the whole range of habitats — from the center city of Baltimore, out into the surrounding rural areas. We are conducting research on the soil, the plants and animals on land and in the streams, the water quality, and condition of the air in and around Baltimore. For that information to make sense, we are also studying how families, associations, organizations and political bodies make decisions that affect ecological processes. In other words, we are treating the whole collection of urban, suburban and rural areas as an ecological system that includes people and their activities. This is a really unusual approach to ecology because it combines with social sciences, physical sciences, and education to understand a big metropolitan area as an ecological system. Saying that an urban area is a system just means that we are concerned with the interactions between wild and domestic organisms, people and their organizations, and the natural and built environment all affect one another. It is these relationships that determine the quality of the environment we experience in the places where we live, work and relax. The research project is long-term, because conditions in the past affect the urban environment we experience now, and we also need to be able to say what environmental effects the things we are doing now in and around our cities will affect the environment in the future. This information can help people, including individuals, families, organizations and government agencies, to make decisions that have the environmental effects that they want.

The Baltimore Ecosystem Study (BES) seeks to

• Pursue excellence in social-ecological research in an urban system;

• Maintain positive engagement with communities, environmental institutions, and government agencies;

• Educate and inform the public, students, and organizations that have need of scientific knowledge; and

• Assemble and nurture a diverse and inclusive community of researchers, educators, and participants.


“Because [the Baltimore Ecosystem Study is] an urban site, we’re interested in studying not only the environmental long-term change of the city but also the social and the economic change of the city. Quite humbly speaking, our goal is to understand Baltimore and its region from 1650 to 2050, building data and understanding and, ideally, tools that can be used to understand how the city has changed, to understand how it’s come to be, and to try to understand where it might be going.”

“We need to do three things: we need to look at how we can improve the environmental quality of [disadvantaged] neighborhoods, we need to remove the housing stock that no longer is habitable, and we need to do it in a way where we don’t have greenwashing and people are displaced because of the improvements to the neighborhoods.”

“Baltimore was the first city in the United States to use race as a driving factor in local land use and zoning, and this whole pattern of residential segregation really took off from the process Baltimore city put in place in 1917. So it’s really interesting…to hear…it’s still with us…and it’s still framing and shaping life outcomes.”

“I think that we need to disabuse folks of the notion that everyone has choice, that we can all live where we want to live, that we all have been able to live where we want to live…Some people weren’t able to live where they wanted to and other people enjoyed privilege, and to help people understand that it hasn’t been always fair and it’s still not fair; and even as we work to make it more and more fair, we have the footprint of history upon us, and it affects not only what we have—the patterns of decline of poor environments and economic situations and of housing—but also affects the way that we can move forward.”


Baltimore Ecosystem Study

Morgan’s book, “The Baltimore School of Urban Ecology: Space, Scale, and Time for the Study of Cities”

New Approach to Urban Ecology Emerges from Forest Service Research in Baltimore


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