Structuring institutional analysis for urban ecosystems: A key to sustainable urban forest management

Sarah K. Mincey, Miranda Hutten, Burnell C. Fischer, Tom P. Evans, Susan I. Stewart, Jessica M. Vogt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Scopus citations


A decline in urban forest structure and function in the United States jeopardizes the current focus on developing sustainable cities. A number of social dilemmas-for example, free-rider problems-restrict the sustainable production of ecosystem services and the stock of urban trees from which they flow. However, institutions, or the rules, norms, and strategies that affect human decision-making, resolve many such social dilemmas, and thus, institutional analysis is imperative for understanding urban forest management outcomes. Unfortunately, we find that the definition of institutions varies greatly across and within disciplines, and conceptual frameworks in urban forest management and urban ecosystems research often embed institutions as minor variables. Given the significance of institutional analysis to understanding sustainable rural resource management, this paper attempts to bring clarity to defining, conceptually framing, and operationally analyzing institutions in urban settings with a specific focus on sustainable urban forest management. We conclude that urban ecologists and urban forest management researchers could benefit from applying a working definition of institutions that uniquely defines rules, norms, and strategies, by recognizing the nested nature of operational, collective choice, and constitutional institutions, and by applying the Institutional Analysis and Development framework for analysis of urban social-ecological systems (SESs). Such work promises to spur the desired policy-based research agenda of urban forestry and urban ecology and provide cross-disciplinary fertilization of institutional analysis between rural SESs and urban ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)553-571
Number of pages19
JournalUrban Ecosystems
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2013


  • Ecosystem services
  • Institutional analysis
  • Public goods
  • Sustainability
  • Urban forest management
  • Urban forest policy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Urban Studies


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