NSF advisory committee assesses ongoing transformation of our increasingly urban planet
In 1950, fewer than one-third of the world's people lived in cities. Today more than half do. By 2050, urban areas will be home to some two-thirds of Earth's human population.
"This scale and pace of urbanization has never been seen in human history," states a new report, Sustainable Urban Systems: Articulating a Long-Term Convergence Research Agenda.
The document was authored by members of the National Science Foundation (NSF) Advisory Committee for Environmental Research and Education's (AC-ERE) Sustainable Urban Systems Subcommittee, chaired by bioproducts and biosystems engineer and public affairs professor Anu Ramaswami of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and the College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Sciences at the University of Minnesota. It serves as a guide for the direction research on cities might take today and in the future.
We live on an urban planet, according to the AC-ERE report, one where cities, although occupying only 3 to 4 percent of Earth's land surface, are affecting human and environmental well-being on scales from the local to the global.
The goal of sustainable urban systems
How will we reach the goal of sustainable urban systems? "The AC-ERE report is an excellent foundation for new scientific collaborations on how cities function, how they grow, and how they can be managed sustainably for decades to come," says Earth and environment scientist Tony Janetos of Boston University, and chair of the AC-ERE.
To develop the next generation of sustainable urban systems research, states the report, "a much broader and longer-term research agenda is needed."
Adds Leah Nichols, chair of NSF's Working Group on Environmental Research and Education, "Current and past NSF investments have created a strong foundation for the research agenda outlined in the report. Programs such as Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy and Water Systems; Smart and Connected Communities; and Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability have supported interdisciplinary projects with far-reaching results."
The time is now
Changing urban areas "present a historic opportunity to improve human and environmental well-being, locally and globally," states the AC-ERE report.
"Researchers, industry leaders and policymakers are recognizing a time-sensitive opportunity to develop a new convergence science of sustainable urban systems that's multi-scale, trans-disciplinary, and advances science-policy-community partnerships to identify pathways toward a more sustainable urban future."
Cities: double-edged swords
Few challenges are more compelling than how to make cities sustainable, say AC-ERE members.
In the U.S., urban areas are home to some 80 percent of the country's human population and generate 85 percent of the Gross Domestic Product, making them critical for local and national prosperity, security and well-being, the report states.
While cities and their suburbs are engines of innovation, they also face issues such as aging and inadequate infrastructure; human health risks from pollution, poor diets and sedentary lifestyles; vulnerability to disasters and extreme events, such as hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria and California's recent wildfires; and inequities in economic opportunity.
'Transboundary flows' from cities
Complicating the picture, what happens in a city doesn't stay in a city.
Transboundary flows of people, natural resources, and goods and services, as well as waste and pollution, move from place to place via networks of trade, infrastructure and information. The effects extend well beyond urban boundaries, states the AC-ERE report.
Energy use in cities contributes to more than 70 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Water supply to just 50 percent of the world's largest urban areas draws on watersheds covering a large part of Earth's land surface: 41 percent.
Regional air pollution from cities is a factor in more than 6.5 million premature deaths each year worldwide. Water stress and weather extremes, such as heat, cold and floods, affect human lives and economies in cities from Bangkok to New York, Phoenix to Chicago. And the regions around them.
No city is an island.
Advancing next-generation sustainable urban systems science
Scientists need new data, methods and theories that assess the interactions among people, technology, infrastructure and natural systems to understand how cities function and change, according to the AC-ERE report.
Next-generation urban systems science requires that researchers study urban areas in ways that connect homes, businesses and communities to impacts on regional and global scales, the report's authors believe.
Scientists need to look for commonalities across metropolitan areas that would help cities learn from each other, states the document. And researchers need to work with community members, city managers, local government officials, and industry representatives to produce knowledge that's practical and useful.
Specific questions the report cites: How will innovation and new technologies, such as self-driving electric vehicles, transform cities? How do we make cities more secure, disaster-resilient and healthy?
Our collective future depends on finding answers. We need to know, say the members of the AC-ERE, how to handle life on a planet that's becoming more and more urbanized. Whether we're ready or not, the challenge is here.
Find related stories on NSF's Environmental Research and Education (ERE) programs at this link.
Cheryl Dybas | EurekAlert!
Building-Integrated Photovoltaics Moves from the Niche to the Mass Market
13.03.2019 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Solare Energiesysteme ISE
Seeing Through the Stones of Cathedrals
07.03.2019 | Otto-Friedrich-Universität Bamberg
DESY and MPSD scientists create high-order harmonics from solids with controlled polarization states, taking advantage of both crystal symmetry and attosecond electronic dynamics. The newly demonstrated technique might find intriguing applications in petahertz electronics and for spectroscopic studies of novel quantum materials.
The nonlinear process of high-order harmonic generation (HHG) in gases is one of the cornerstones of attosecond science (an attosecond is a billionth of a...
Nano- and microtechnology are promising candidates not only for medical applications such as drug delivery but also for the creation of little robots or flexible integrated sensors. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPI-P) have created magnetic microparticles, with a newly developed method, that could pave the way for building micro-motors or guiding drugs in the human body to a target, like a tumor. The preparation of such structures as well as their remote-control can be regulated using magnetic fields and therefore can find application in an array of domains.
The magnetic properties of a material control how this material responds to the presence of a magnetic field. Iron oxide is the main component of rust but also...
Due to the special arrangement of its molecules, a new coating made of corn starch is able to repair small scratches by itself through heat: The cross-linking via ring-shaped molecules makes the material mobile, so that it compensates for the scratches and these disappear again.
Superficial micro-scratches on the car body or on other high-gloss surfaces are harmless, but annoying. Especially in the luxury segment such surfaces are...
The Potsdam Echelle Polarimetric and Spectroscopic Instrument (PEPSI) at the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) in Arizona released its first image of the surface magnetic field of another star. In a paper in the European journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, the PEPSI team presents a Zeeman- Doppler-Image of the surface of the magnetically active star II Pegasi.
A special technique allows astronomers to resolve the surfaces of faraway stars. Those are otherwise only seen as point sources, even in the largest telescopes...
Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology and the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, have proposed a way to create a completely new source of radiation. Ultra-intense light pulses consist of the motion of a single wave and can be described as a tsunami of light. The strong wave can be used to study interactions between matter and light in a unique way. Their research is now published in the scientific journal Physical Review Letters.
"This source of radiation lets us look at reality through a new angle - it is like twisting a mirror and discovering something completely different," says...
11.03.2019 | Event News
01.03.2019 | Event News
28.02.2019 | Event News
25.03.2019 | Trade Fair News
25.03.2019 | Life Sciences
25.03.2019 | Information Technology