the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification system for buildings, which has four tiers of compliance (Certified, Silver, Gold, Platinum). A baseline could include the (generally) inexpensive interventions that all urban areas could be investing in now, and ascending tiers could help put communities on a path toward sustainability. Overall, participants emphasized the need for objective evaluations if this knowledge from the field is going to be mined and made useful to a broader community.

On the subject of best practices, many participants noted that existing databases are generally sector-specific (e.g., water and sanitation) and thus are not focused holistically on urban systems. Moreover, evaluations of technologies may be viewed as incomplete if they do not include an objective evaluation of how the technology is successfully integrated into a community, in other words, an assessment of what works and why. In recent years, more and more communities purport to be sustainable, though there are not widely agreed-upon metrics to substantiate these claims. Many participants suggested that measurement protocols with flexibility built in for regional variation would be a valuable contribution from the research community. Some participants suggested that an open, web-based platform could provide a forum to share experiences and experiment results globally, at modest cost. As other participants noted, such user-supported approaches may not be rigorous enough for some applications, but it would at least provide an initial venue for place-based research and knowledge to be exchanged

Finally, spurred in part by the last panel discussion on decision makers’ needs, a few participants remarked that more research was needed to understand the incentives that can foster change in an urban area. Local budgets may not allow for major expenditures with long-term payoff, so participants wondered aloud if this can be overcome through lifecycle costing, or better communication with citizens. Participants identified three primary motivations for urban areas to pursue sustainability objectives: economics, ethics, and competitiveness. Some participants suggested that competitiveness may in fact be the strongest motivation, since metropolitan regions (and communities within a metropolitan region) do in fact compete with one another. Put another way, one participant inquired how “keeping up with the Joneses” and behavioral research more generally is being factored into the urban sustainability research agenda.

Closing Remarks

To conclude the workshop, participants discussed various ways to move a sustainable urban systems research agenda forward. At present, there is no federal office or agency that can oversee the range of research going on, and because the research community itself is still fragmented, it is difficult to identify all potential research gaps. Many participants noted that not everyone uses the terms “urban sustainability” or “urban systems” but there are elements of it implicit in the approach that federal agencies, the White House, and others are taking. From a federal perspective, one participant suggested that it might be useful for the new White House Office of Urban Affairs and the Office of Science and Technology Policy to jointly discuss how urban sustainability, however they collectively define it, could be made a priority, and then issue a directive to mission agencies to advance urban sustainability through the lens of their particular agencies. Finally, some participants noted that the research community knows how to do evaluations, and so it might be beneficial to direct future research funding into projects which help objectively evaluate progress towards urban sustainability.



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement