Associate Professor; Director of Graduate Studies
Associate Professor Cerra has practiced as a designer and ecologist for 25 years combined. His work addresses relationships between urban ecosystems, communities and site development processes, and their implications for urban ecological design and climate-adaptive design.
Designing intentional urban ecological processes and experiences as a basic part of city structure offers profound benefits today for cities in terms of amenity, services, urban experience and character. Urban ecosystems also offer considerable benefits for tomorrow as part of a comprehensive climate-adaptive framework for cities as we prepare for a changing future.
Cities operate as intensive social-ecological systems where urban human systems and natural systems are inextricably linked. Therefore, while my research builds on a platform of practice and academic work in ecological design and planning to catalyze urban design innovation, it is also concurrently investigating how to best engage people as actors and agents in the design process itself to empower and inspire cities to act toward making better places for their communities. This social-ecological systems approach to design- working with both people and place- activates both social networks and ecological networks so that cities can be more responsive and resilient amidst change.
Since 2013 Cerra has directed the Climate-adaptive Design (CAD), which in partnership with New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Scenic Hudson and others links design students with flood-prone Hudson riverfront municipalities to develop alternative design strategies for more climate-adapted and connected waterfront areas. He has also directed the YardWorks Studio, which in partnership with the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology developed urban ecological design strategies that enhance urban ecological conditions in ways that are compatible with social norms interests and needs. Cerra is also a principal investigator for the Cornell Climate Change Garden, an interpretive research installation on campus that uses a high tunnel to create a comparative environment for enhancing visitor awareness of changing temperature variables associated with climate change projections and their possible impacts on plants. The environmental, phenological, and visitor experience data being collected are being used to tune the installation’s performance and interpretive benefits.
My pedagogical philosophy is grounded in the following tenets, which pervade nearly all of my coursework:
• Incorporating my research into teaching
By bringing my research efforts into the classroom, students learn new, cutting-edge design strategies and methods in a compelling environment for contemporary design inquiry.
• Linking theory to practice
My courses often begin with research into the best available science, policy and theory, followed by exploration of its potential for inspiring innovation in space-making, design methods and tools for transforming landscapes.
• Providing interdisciplinary experiences and perspectives
By working with planners, architects, engineers, scientists and others, students develop new perspective and are better prepared for the types of interdisciplinary relationships they will encounter in practice.
• Investigating intrinsic linkages between social and ecological processes
My coursework emphasizes the inextricable links between urban human and natural systems, particularly with respect to urban ecological design and climate-adaptive design.
• Empowering communities and empowering students
At its best, community-engaged, participatory learning provides education benefits, community benefits, and research benefits, supporting the institution's land grant mission.
Awards and Honors
- Faculty Advisor, ASLA Student Communications Honor Award. "A Student's Guide to Environmental Justice Version 1.3." Team: Kari Spiegelhalter, Theresa Ruswick, Patricia Noto (2018) American Society of Landscape Architects
- Faculty Fellowship for Social Sciences, Humanities , and the Arts (2018) Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future
- Faculty Advisor, ASLA Student General Design Honor Award. "Weaving the Waterfront." Team: Hong Gao, Luyao Kong, Qianli Feng (2017) American Society of Landscape Architects
- Excellence In Design Studio Teaching - Junior Faculty Award (2016) The Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture
- CALS Young Faculty Teaching Award (2015) Cornell College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
- Cerra, J., Muller, B. W., & Young, R. (2017). A transformative Outlook on the 21st Century city: Patrick Geddes Outlook Tower revisited. Landscape and Urban Planning. 166:90-96.
- Cerra, J. (2017). Emerging strategies for voluntary urban ecological stewardship on private property. Landscape and Urban Planning. 157:586-597.
- Cerra, J. (2016). Inland adaptation: Developing a studio model for climate-adaptive design as a framework for design practice. Landscape Journal. 35:37-56.
- Cerra, J., & Crain, R. (2016). Urban birds and planting design: Strategies for incorporating ecological goals into residential landscapes. Urban Ecosystems. 19:1823-1846.
- Cerra, J., Wien, H. C., & Skelly, S. (2015). Making change: designing a new model for climate change interpretation and experimentation. p. 23-36 Incite Change | Change Insight Keane, Tim (ed.), New Prairie Press, Manhattan, KS.
- Cerra, J., & Crain, R. (2016). Beating the property barrier: Building community to build ecology in cities. Landscape Research Record, Landscape Research Record 223-244 p.
- Cerra, J. (2016). The YardWorks Project: Developing Urban Ecological Design Strategies for Residential Private Property. Landscape Research Record. Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture, Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture 89-100 p.
- Cerra, J. (2015). Leveraging Urban Ecosystems for Comprehensive Climate- Adaptive Design: An Approach Framework for Landscape Architects. Nisha A. Fernando, Ph.D., & Greg Allen Barker, AIA (ed.), Environmental Design Research Association, Environmental Design Research Association, Madison, Wisconsin, USA 42-47 p.
- Cerra, J. (2014). Changing the Matrix: Stewardship Models for Coordinating Urban Ecological Enhancement on Private Property. Environmental Design Research Association 45th Annual Conference Proceedings. Environmental Design Research Association, Environmental Design Research Association, Mclean, VA, USA 64-69 p.
- Cerra, J., & Muller, B. W. (2014). Dynamic urban ecologies: adaptive approaches to landscape-structure in the face of urban change. Environmental Design Research Association 45th Annual Conference Proceedings. Environmental Design Research Association, Environmental Design Research Association, Mclean, VA, USA 58-63 p.
Presentations and Activities
- Building Social and Ecological Resilience in Cities. Nature in the City Forum. September 2017. Beijing Forestry University. Beijing, China.
- Designing a More Comprehensive Approach for Social and Ecological Resilience. Ithaca Native Landscape Symposium. March 2017. Ithaca, NY.
- Building Social and Ecological Resilience in Cities. Salmon in the City: Ecology + Urban Design Symposium. January 2017. Salmon-Safe, Inc./University of Oregon. Portland, Oregon.
- Building Social and Ecological Resilience in Cities. Salmon in the City: Ecology + Urban Design Symposium. January 2017. Portland, OR.
- Building Urban Ecological Resilience. ARCE School. December 2016. Megawra. Cairo, Egypt.
- Cornell Climate-adaptive Design Studio. COP22 Blue Zone Climate Change Studio mini side event. November 2016. United Nations . Marrakech, Morocco.
- Leveraging Urban Ecosystems for Comprehensive Climate-Adaptive Design: An Approach Framework for Landscape Architects. Environmental Design Research Association 46th Annual Conference. May 2015. Ennvironmental Design Research Association. Los Angeles, CA.
- Urban Ecological Design Strategies. Vancouver Bird Week 2015. May 2015. City of Vancouver. Vancouver, BC.
- YardWorks: New urban ecological design strategies for residential private property. Ithaca Native Landscape Symposium. March 2015. Ithaca Native Landscape Symposium. Ithaca, NY.
- Making Change: Designing a New Model for Climate Change Interpretation and Experimentation. Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture. March 2015. Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture. Manhattan, KS.