Human Ecology refers to the web of institutional and individual interconnections that ground our identities, guide our collective and individual action, and shape our life purposes in a given historical, social, and moral context.

Human ecology stresses the fact that cities are neither collections of autonomous individuals or discrete problem areas, each hermetically sealed from one another (like poverty or affordable housing); nor do cities behave like mechanical systems that can be managed and controlled by rational experts from on high. Akin to the urban thinker Jane Jacobs’ notion of “organized complexity,” a human ecology approach sees cities as complex, asymmetric, and dynamic social systems that both empower and constrain the ways of life and life chances of their residents. The concept of human ecology encourages us to think about the shape, character, and normative purposes of actual places and people in culturally and historically interactive terms.

Building Blocks of Thriving

Our distinctively cultural approach, with its emphasis on the normative dimensions of common life in cities, invites us to see them in terms of six interactive (and ever-evolving) formative contexts in which we routinely see the exercise the moral agency and practical reasoning across human communities. The first three of the six endowments build on the classical ideals of “The True,” “The Good,” and “The Beautiful;” the last three are what we call the modern ideals of “The Prosperous,” “The Just and Well-Ordered,” and “The Sustainable.” Together, they form some of the most recognizable horizons of human experience and the building blocks of thriving in any community. In an older parlance, we can say that they form the commonwealth of a community.

Human Ecology Pathways

The Human Ecology Pathways are the individual interconnections that make up the Human Ecology. Understanding the historical, present, and future trajectory of community requires us to understand how institutions and individuals relate to one another. Pathways are the interconnected relationships of critical upstream inputs and downstream outcomes within the complex social system of a community. Ranging from exploratory connections to critical linkages, a pathway is built upon a variety of sources. Pathways are meant to capture the breadth of the research on a given topic and situate that within the context of our places, all with the aim of equipping practitioners and stakeholders with practical information needed to inform their actions and decisions.