Urban Sustainability Science: Development and Opportunity

10:00-12:00, Oct 8 2021, CST; 04:00-06:00, Oct 8 2021, CET; 19:00-21:00, Oct 7 2021, PDT

Slides and Video for the presentation.

Prof José Lobo is interested in determinants of metropolitan economic performance and location-specific economic growth; the application of machine learning, data mining and spatial statistics methods to the study of socioeconomic data; causes and consequences of urban size and scale; and how the characteristics of individuals, organizations, institutions and social networks interact to create "regions of innovation." Prof Lobo has acted as visiting researcher at the Santa Fe Institute and Italy's Universita di Modena e Reggio Emilia. Currently, he is on the faculty steering committee for Arizona State University's Center for Social Dynamics and Complexity and associate research professor in the School of Sustainability at ASU.


In order to better understand the future fates of cities in relationship to changing environmental and social conditions, the relatively new fields of sustainability science and urban science are merging into the hybrid discipline of urban sustainability science. The development of this new science is justified by the fact that already most human beings live in cities, a trend that will continue in the next few decades, resulting in our planet becoming a "planet of cities". Thus, the challenges and opportunities of sustainable development are inherently urban. Urban science builds upon several research traditions (urban economics, economic geography, urban sociology, urban ecology, archaeology, anthropology) which have studied cities and urbanization across eras and geographies. Sustainability science is defined by its scope of inquiry—the interactions between natural and social systems—and a central problem: how those interactions affect the challenge of sustainable development. Sustainability science also draws from several perspectives spanning the natural and social sciences and engineering. The integration of urban science and sustainability science is an example of what the National Science Foundation of the USA describes as "convergence research": the integration of knowledge, methods, data, and expertise from different disciplines to catalyze new scientific frameworks and insights. Urban sustainability science seeks to understand the “levers of change” which can be pulled in order for urban systems to transform their structures and processes with the goal of sustainably advancing the well-being of urban inhabitants. There is an added imperative for better understanding the interaction or urban and natural environments as cities will be principal setting in which adaptation to climate change needs to occur.

In this presentation, which marks the start of an online lecture series on urban science and sustainability, I will highlight what novel insights the emerging discipline of urban sustainability science has generated and describe the fields' research frontier. I will emphasize three fundamental perspectives. (a) Cities as open, complex, self-organising, adaptive and evolving formations that are embedded in physical, social, ecological, economic, technological, and institutional spaces. (b) Urban systems as networks through which matter, energy and information flow among the components of the networks. (c) Urban systems are dependent on rural systems for the provisioning of food, energy, water, and other materials and natural resources, while rural systems are dependent on urban systems for markets, goods, services and employment. Together urban and rural systems comprise regional systems. I will also call attention to how studying China's urbanization experience and engaging with the challenges faced by the country's continuing urbanization can contribute to the development of urban sustainability science. Many of the themes and questions covered in this presentation will be considered in more detail in subsequent lectures.

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