Perceived services and disservices of natural treatment systems for urban stormwater: insight from the next generation of designers.
Natural treatment systems (NTS) for stormwater have the potential to provide a myriad of ecosystem services to society. Realizing this potential requires active collaboration among engineers, ecologists and landscape planners and begins with a paradigm shift in communication whereby these groups are made aware of each other's perceptions about NTS and the presence of knowledge gaps that their respective disciplines can bridge. Here we participate in the first part of what we hope will be a reciprocal exchange: presenting results from a landscape perceptions survey to urban planners, ecologists and landscape architects that illustrates how the next generation of engineers perceives NTS relative to other landscape features, and the implications of those perceptions for future infrastructure development. Our results suggest that although lawns, gardens and native ecosystems were perceived as multifunctional, providing characteristic bundles of services/disservices, perceptions of NTS were more variable (i.e. there was no social norm for their perception). Environmental worldviews, knowledge, attitudes about ecosystem services and demographics were all significant drivers of perceived services. However, students had difficulty identifying NTS correctly, and factual knowledge about NTS did not help students associate NTS with typical design services like flood reduction more than features not designed for those purposes, such as lawns. This suggests that engineering students lack familiarity with the outward appearance of NTS and have difficulty placing NTS services into a broader landscape context. Expertise from urban planning and ecology could help bridge these knowledge gaps, improving the capacity of tomorrow's engineers to co-design NTS to meet diverse community needs.