Session 54: A new science of cities for responding to Global Environmental Change


Session Abstract

In the last few years, there has been an intensification of efforts for a new urban research synthesis, connecting seemingly disparate topics or themes and integrate disciplinary knowledge. In this perspective, cities are viewed through the lenses of complexity science, geography, urban economics, regional science and sociology. They are typically examined as interlinked systems of networks and flows. Emergent properties of these systems (such as scaling and power laws) are being 'micro-founded' and their policy relevance is further explored. It can be argued that cities are the most important socio-economic entity of the 21st century, the century which will see the completion of humanity's march towards becoming an urban species. Hints abound regarding the existence and effects of generative processes common to urban life across time and across geography. The scientific challenge is to build formal and predictive models for the origin and development of cities.

Whether a new 'science of cities' or 'urbanization science' is being discussed, what remains to be further examined is the theoretical and policy relevance of the new findings for global environmental change research. What are the implications of the new lenses and knowledge produced within a new urbanization science for our capacity to respond to climate change? What are the energetics of cities? Urbanization is good for development and for innovation, but will these always counteract the environmental impacts of the very same processes of urbanization? How do we envision the findings affecting our capacity to better manage biodiversity-rich landscapes? Is a new science of urbanization capable of addressing major themes in the global environmental change literature, such as low-probability, high-impact events or tipping points in ecosystems? 

Keywords: urbanization science, urbanization, synthesis, complexity


Key Discussion Points

  • There are difficulties in prescribing a normative view of urbanization.
  • Why does the study of policy implementation garner less funding than the data collection that would inform implementation? 
  • Research on sustainability indicators (e.g., water, energy and food consumption) must include both the city and the sources of these commodities. It may be difficult for local governments and planners to connect with an 'urbanization science'. 
  • It is difficult to predict urban growth/change based on historical analysis.  Urbanization science might help find the correlations, but not necessarily help find the solutions.
  • Not all research needs to be co-designed, and not all urban researchers need to focus on the local.  The time frames in which researchers work is much different than the time frames of practitioners.
  • There is a debate between urbanization scientists as to whether or not there should be a single law of urbanization.  Is there one single urbanization trajectory or are there multiple ones specific to regional differences?



Michail Fragkias, Boise State University, Boise, ID, USA

Jose Lobo, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA



Barry Newell, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia

Presentation Title: Collaborative conceptual modelling: Unraveling the complexity of urban systems

Matthias Garschagen, United National University, Bonn, Germany

Presentation Title: Social and economic tipping points in urban adaptation potentials: Reason for concern

Angel Hsu, Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA

Presentation Title: Urban sustainability metrics: Smart-scaling for cities

Michail Fragkias, Boise State University, Boise, ID, USA

Presentation Title: A new science for cities and Global Environmental Change: An overview

Karen Seto, Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA

Presentation Title: Why do we need an urbanization science?

Kevin Gurney, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA

Presentation Title: Hestia: High resolution quantification of fossil fuel CO2 emissions for cities: From science to policy


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