‘Rage against the machine’? The opportunities and risks concerning the automation of urban green infrastructure

Natalie Marie Gulsrud, Christopher M. Raymond, Rebecca L. Rutt, Anton Stahl Olafsson, Tobias Plieninger, Mattias Sandberg, Thomas H. Beery, K. Ingemar Jönsson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Contemporary society is increasingly impacted by automation; however, few studies have considered the potential consequences of automation on ecosystems and their management (hereafter the automation of urban green infrastructure or UGI). This Perspective Essay takes up this discussion by asking how a digital approach to UGI planning and management mediates the configuration and development of UGI and to whose benefit? This is done through a review of key issues and trends in digital approaches to UGI planning and management. We first conceptualize automation from a social, ecological, and technological interactions perspective and use this lens to present an overview of the risks and opportunities of UGI automation with respect to selected case studies. Results of this analysis are used to develop a conceptual framework for the assessment of the material and governance implications of automated UGIs. We find that, within any given perspective, the automation of UGI entails a complex dialectic between efficiency, human agency and empowerment. Further, risks and opportunities associated with UGI automation are not fixed but are dynamic properties of changing contextual tensions concerning power, actors, rules of the game and discourse at multiple scales. We conclude the paper by outlining a research agenda on how to consider different digital advances within a social-ecological-technological approach.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)85-92
Number of pages8
JournalLandscape and Urban Planning
StatePublished - Dec 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This perspective essay is the result of a writing workshop supported by funding from Kristianstad University. The authors warmly thank the participants of the Social-Ecological Systems writing club in Göttingen, Germany in February 2018, and the participants of the Digital Natures Session at the American Association of Geographers Conference in New Orleans, USA in April, 2018, for stimulating and structuring our thinking. Professor Jason Henderson from San Francisco State University also assisted in the development of this essay.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Elsevier B.V.


  • Digital technology
  • Ecosystem services
  • Environmental governance
  • Landscape management
  • Smart city
  • Social, ecological, technological systems


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