Nature Sustainability has formed a new partnership with University College London which aims to advance a more integrated and policy-engaged research agenda on cities.
Monica Contestabile, Chief Editor, Nature Sustainability, writes here about why now is the right time for this endeavour.
Rapid urbanisation and population growth are changing dramatically the way human, physical and natural systems mutually interact.
Cities across the globe are great innovation hubs, but face numerous challenges including increasing rates of crime, pollution, housing shortages, public health issues. We observe changes in interventions and policies at urban level at a much faster speed than at national- or even international-level. Cities are now seen as the new global leaders to advance the fight against climate change and they are considered engines of sustainable development. They are dynamic and resilient to crises – many even survive catastrophic events through significant reconstruction efforts.
It’s no surprise that cities have been the object of study for many decades now. Research on cities has a long tradition evolving from conventional urban planning merging insights from urban design and public health, into a much more sophisticated blend of methodologies and disciplines.
Urban research and policy
Is it fair to look at cities to find regularities across them, despite their different geographical, historical, cultural contexts? Some experts would argue that if we could find commonalities in the ways cities respond to social and environmental pressures, we would be in a much stronger position to scale up effective solutions.
Others would say that cities are too different from each other, making it almost impossible to generalise and draw lessons by comparing them. Hopefully this lively debate will move soon to a level of shared understanding across research communities about the need of many disciplines and perspectives to better characterise cities, their dynamics and potential to improve the life of millions of people across the world.
Consolidating the foundations of urban research will significantly help science-based policy making at urban level. The UN Sustainable Development Goals agenda needs, and calls for, science-based policies to progress towards a sustainable future.
Goal 11 – make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable – inherently calls for solid evidence about the functioning of cities in order to improve them. We need stronger cross-disciplinary urban science and a better urban science-policy interface as policymakers and scientists, gathered together for the UN conference Habitat III in 2016 in Quito, confirmed. Though interest in urban research has never been higher in urban policy spheres, the urban science-policy interface remains poor as researchers are often not adequately prepared to engage with policy.
UCL-Nature Sustainability partnership on urban research
Partnering with the City Leadership Laboratory at University College London (UCL), we at Nature Sustainability are keen to contribute to the advancement of a more integrated and policy-engaged research agenda on cities.
To further this aim, we have established an international and cross-disciplinary expert panel of 25 experts to review the state of urban research for global sustainability at its interface with policy (More details here – PDF). The expert group will identify knowledge gaps, critical disciplinary tensions and recommend a way forward to strengthen urban research. The group will also look at what can both drive and hinder urban researchers’ efforts to create a more successful interface with policy.
The expert panel will first meet in London on 3-4 July 2017, and will deliver its recommendations in a report around November 2017. These will be published in Nature Sustainability in January 2018.