Science and the Future of Cities

Cities are central to life on our planet. Urban areas generate more than 75% of global GDP, contribute to about 75% of carbon emissions from global final energy use, and are home to the majority of the world population, including over 863 million urban dwellers living in slums and informal settlements. Understanding how cities work, what opportunities and challenges they afford humanity, and how we can harness these for a sustainable continuation of our societies is key. Knowledge about our planet from an urban perspective has become central in understanding the present and possible future of our living conditions. Cities are gaining momentum in world affairs. The importance of thinking about the urban dimension of our shared global challenges is now enshrined in the 2030 United Nations Sustainable Development Agenda, adopted by more than 150 world leaders in 2015, which includes a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) that focuses explicitly on urban areas, as much as in other key multilateral frameworks like the UN New Urban Agenda or the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Sendai Framework in disaster Risk Reduction. Since then, discussions about the importance of generating more effective knowledge about the urban condition of our planet have been repeatedly acknowledged by key multilateral venues like the Group of 20, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the World Economic Forum or the World Data Forum, to name but a few. At the same time, cities are waking up to leading on global challenges. Mayors and other local leaders are now regularly partaking in major international efforts and vocal advocates for a more sustainable future. Cities need to be more effectively understood, and this knowledge needs to become action. Scholars have repeatedly advocated for this formalised multilateral attention and for a greater connection between scientific ways of understanding cities and practical modes of setting policies to govern cities the world over. Yet, for a long time, academia has been lagging behind in this momentum. After all, both on the eve as much as after the establishment of the SDGs and the New Urban Agenda, many commentators pointed at the pressing science and policy gaps affecting our capacity to ensure that urbanisation is a force of positive transformation in global development. Cities need better science-policy connections. To harness the global efforts around these agendas, we urgently need to address two key matters: forge new knowledge that responds to complex urban challenges, and accelerate uptake of scientific urban information by practitioners. Achieving the first goal will require bringing together scholars from across disparate fields and reorganizing existing knowledge domains which are currently compartmentalised and professionalised. Achieving the second will require transformation of current sciencepolicy interfaces. We need a more effective and more global, both in analytical reach as much cosmopolitan ethos, urban science. Urban science has deep roots, dating back to the early 20th century, and needs not to overshadow the vast variety of scientific traditions and modes of knowing the ‘urban’ that have emerged from the natural, social and engineering sciences, via law, politics and management, to the arts and humanities. The urban science we advocate here for is a cross-cutting field of engagement across different urban disciplines.

Source: Nature Sustainability

This article is culled from daily press coverage from around the world. It is posted on the Urban Gateway by way of keeping all users informed about matters of interest. The opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and in no way reflects the opinion of UN-Habitat. 

Edgar Pieterse, Susan Parnell

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