The first-ever National Urban Ecosystems Forum was held September 28-29 in Oklahoma City, OK.
The American Architectural Foundation, in partnership with the Kirkpatrick Foundation , brought over 20 thought leaders from 12 different cities across the country to Oklahoma City to share their expertise and discuss holistic and multi-disciplinary strategies to maintain healthy urban ecosystems for all species.
The group included top leaders from:
- Two federal agencies,
- Three universities,
- Two global planning firms,
- Six nonprofit organizations,
- Three landscape architecture firms,
- Two city governments, and
- One strategic real estate advisory firm.
The two-day event began with an introduction to Oklahoma City by Aubrey McDermid, Director of the Planning Department of Oklahoma City, who shared some key facts about the city (Oklahoma City, or “OKC” to locals, is the third largest city in terms of land area in the United States, at 621 square miles) as well as highlights of the their new citywide comprehensive plan, planokc , with the group.
Following this comprehensive introduction to the city, the group spent an afternoon on an in-depth tour of local design and planning projects in Oklahoma City, such as the Wheeler District, Edgemere Park, Boathouse District and Myriad Botanical Gardens; historic areas like the Farmer’s Market and Paseo Commercial District; as well as a few projects currently in development, such as Scissortail Park. At each stop on the tour, city officials, ecologists, planners, landscape architects, funders, and others provided key insight into each project’s design and development, shared some of the challenges as well as successes they encountered along the way, and addressed key questions from the group about funding mechanisms, design strategies for creating a balanced ecosystem, and their community engagement process.
On the second day, the group convened at the OU Community Design Center in the historic Film Row district of OKC for a day of large- and small-group discussions focused on defining urban ecology, holistic design approaches, and charting success for local leaders. The day began with a request from Louisa McCune of the Kirkpatrick Foundation for an “urban ecosystem manifesto.” Noting that the room was comprised of some of the country’s top design, planning, and ecology leaders, she tasked the group with taking advantage of this unique opportunity to develop a unifying vision for how cities large and small can ensure a healthy and balanced environment for all species – plants, animals, and humans.
Expertly moderated by AAF Regent Ted Landsmark, the Director of the Kitty and Michael Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy  at Northeastern University, the day’s discussion was broad and wide-ranging, with several participants remarking on how unusual it was to have designers, planners, landscape architects, and wildlife specialists at the table together. David Drake, professor and wildlife specialist in the Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison , articulated the need for “developing a shared vocabulary amongst designers, planners, and wildlife ecologists.”
Forum participants included:
- Matt Arnn, Chief Landscape Architect, U.S. Forest Service , Washington, D.C.
- Susan Atkinson, Senior Planner, City of Oklahoma City , Oklahoma
- Ignacio Bunster-Ossa, Vice President of Landscape Architecture / Practice Leader of the Americas, AECOM , Arlington, Virginia
- Hans Butzer, Dean, College of Architecture, University of Oklahoma , Norman, Oklahoma
- Amy Coffman Phillips, Founder, B-Collaborative , Chicago, Illinois
- David Drake, Professor of Forest and Wildlife Ecology, University of Wisconsin – Madison, Wisconsin 
- Gina Ford, Principal, Sasaki , Watertown, Massachusetts
- Cinda Gilliland, Principal, Reed Gilliland , Petaluma, California
- Liz Guthrie, Associate Director, Resilience Practice, Network, and Learning, 100 Resilient Cities , New York, New York
- Shane Hampton, Director, Institute for Quality Communities, University of Oklahoma , Norman, Oklahoma
- Mami Hara, General Manager / CEO, Seattle Public Utilities , Seattle, Washington
- Maureen Heffernan, Executive Director, Myriad Gardens Foundation , Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
- Mary Margaret Jones, Senior Principal, Hargreaves Associates , San Francisco, California
- Ted Landsmark, Director, Northeastern University Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy , Boston, Massachusetts
- Dwight Lawson, Executive Director, Oklahoma City Zoo , Oklahoma, Oklahoma
- Liza Lehrer, Urban Wildlife Ecologist, Urban Wildlife Institute , Chicago, Illinois
- Molly McCabe, Founder and President, HaydenTanner , LLC, Bigfork, Montana
- Aubrey McDermid, Director of Planning, City of Oklahoma City , Oklahoma
- Seth Magle, Director, Urban Wildlife Initiative , Chicago, Illinois
- Brent Wall, Director, LAUD Studio , Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
- Kristy Wicker, Executive Director, Wildcare Foundation , Noble, Oklahoma
- Clark Wilson, Acting Director, Community Assistance and Research Division, Office of Community Revitalization, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 
The National Urban Ecosystems Forum would not have been possible without the generous support of the Kirkpatrick Foundation.
To learn more about this program and other AAF Center for Design & the City programming, contact Program Director Elizabeth Okeke-Von Batten .
Photos courtesy of Deane Madsen and the American Architectural Foundation.