Associate Professor Cerra has practiced as a designer and ecologist for over 25 years combined. His work investigates relationships between urban ecosystems, communities and site development processes, and their implications for climate-adaptive design and urban ecological 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
- ACSF Faculty Fellowship for Social Sciences, Humanities , and the Arts (2018) Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future
- ASLA Communications Honor Award, 2018 ASLA Student Awards. Faculty Advisor. "A Student's Guide to Environmental Justice Version 1.3." Student Team: Kari Spiegelhalter, Theresa Ruswick, Patricia Noto (2018) American Society of Landscape Architects
- ASLA General Design Honor Award, 2017 ASLA Student Awards. Faculty Advisor. "Weaving the Waterfront." Student Team: Hong Gao, Luyao Kong, Qianli Feng (2017) American Society of Landscape Architects
- CELA 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., Smith, G., & Zemaitis, L. People and place: Understanding social dimensions of resilience in the Climate-adaptive Design Studio. Environmental Design Research Association, Environmental Design Research Association.
- Muller, B., Al-Ibrashy, M., Cerra, J., & Prier, M. (2018). Rewatering as community development: Reclaiming environmental heritage. The Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of Traditional Environments. International Association for the Study of Traditional Environments, International Association for the Study of Traditional Environments, Berkeley, CA.
- 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.
Presentations and Activities
- Design with people and place: Engaged research in the Climate-adaptive Design studio. 2018 Ag, Food and Environmental Systems In-service. November 2018. Cornell Cooperative Extension . Ithaca, NY United States.
- Design with people and place: Engaged research in the Climate-adaptive Design studio. High Water Festival Mayors Institute. October 2018. City of Kingston, NY. Kingston, NY.
- Design with people and place: Engaged research in the Climate-adaptive Design Studio. Flood Risk and Resiliency. October 2018. Community and Regional Development Institute, Cornell University. Ithaca, NY United States.
- Rewatering as community development: Reclaiming environmental heritage. 2018 International Association for the Study of Traditional Environments. October 2018. International Association for the Study of Traditional Environments. Coimbra, Portugal.
- Linking Community and Ecology: The Climate-adaptive Design Studio. CUNY Rising Urbanists Conference. April 2018. City University of New York. New York, New York.
- Linking Community and Ecology: The Climate-adaptive Design Studio. Biophilia Ithaca Chapter Meeting. January 2018. Biophilia Ithaca Chapter. Ithaca, NY.
- 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.