Urban Science: Integrated Theory from the First Cities to Sustainable Metropolises

The emergence of cities is a relatively recent phenomenon in human history. Their appearance in the archaeological record coincides with the advent of increasingly sedentary, agricultural, bureaucratic, and politically asymmetrical societies. Following this transition, the social, economic, and political importance of cities as foci of human social interactions, innovation, and productivity has steadily increased over time, and the urbanization process which began some 10,000 years ago will soon see Homo Sapiens become mostly an urban species.

Urban science seeks to understand the fundamental factors which drive, shape and sustain cities and the process of urbanization. It’s a multi/transdisciplinary field, requiring insights and methods the social, natural, engineering and computational sciences, along with the humanities. In a recent paper, LML External Fellow Hyejin Youn and colleagues offer a review of the current “state of the art” in urban science while also indicating how this field builds upon and complements prior work on cities and urbanization in many other disciplines. The report aims to convey what makes urban science different from more discipline-based examinations of cities and urbanization, and also highlights novel insights generated by the inherently multidisciplinary inquiry that urban science exemplifies.

Youn and colleagues hope the report will facilitate and provoke discussion among the many stakeholders for whom a scientifically based, empirically rich, and historically deep understanding of cities and urbanization is not only intellectually compelling but also socially urgent and ethically pressing. They believe that the innovative scholarship constituting urban science can provide scientific leadership in helping to meet the urgent challenges of global sustainable development. In particular, they note, we now have the opportunity to construct a scientific enterprise up to the challenge of reliably informing urban clinical practice and policy-making. This could be crucial for creating the more sustainable, equitable and productive cities needed to address many of the grand challenges we face from poverty to climate change.

The working paper is available at here.

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