Spatial research for the anthropocene

© private
Univ.-Prof. Dr. Marc Wolfram, © private

Statement of the new director of the Leibniz Institute of Ecological Urban and Regional Development, Professor Marc Wolfram, on the occasion of taking office on 1 July 2019.

With a view to 2030, urban-, regional-and spatial development are facing outstanding challenges – in a national context, as well as globally. Within less than a century, human activity has driven our biosphere beyond the boundaries of a safe operating space into a zone of perpetual risks. Massive alterations of climate processes and nutrient cycles, the dramatic loss of wildlife and natural habitat, as well as the foreseeable depletion of non-renewable resources are lasting ecological consequences that can only be reversed to a limited extent. They will drastically exacerbate existing social and economic disparities and add new ones - at all scales.

This global ecological crisis marks the end of an era that has confused development with growth, and sustainability with technology-centered modernization. Deep and rapid transformations are required urgently, as demanded by science for a long time already, but increasingly also by policy and society.

In this, the role of space and place appears to be vital. Causes of the sketched problems, as well as possible solutions point towards spatial characteristics and processes: Economies and production patterns, systems of provision and mobility, built environs and housing, as well as lifestyles and every-day life cultures are geographically structured, differentiated and networked, create ecological impacts both locally and over large spatial distances.

This intersection between ecological and spatial dynamics forms the core subject of the IOER. Together with stakeholders in society the institute co-creates new knowledge and methods to better understand the role of spatial factors in social-ecological change, and to harness them for responsible stewardship. To this end the institute unites a broad range of disciplines under one roof, and integrates foundational and applied research into a holistic approach of spatial sustainability science.

The next decade will be decisive for treading new paths in diverse geographic contexts, fostering systemic innovations across a range of action domains simultaneously. This implies enormous opportunities for urban-, regional- and spatial development, but also major uncertainties and potential for conflicts. As the director of the IOER it is therefore my principal concern to co-shape just ecological transformations at national and international levels – by driving the advancement of spatial research, and as a partner for science, policy and practice.

Prof. Marc Wolfram, Ph.D.