and climate change adaptation. Unpacking the complexities of a sustainable urban system will often require context-specific and place-based approaches, given the diverse regional economies, ecosystems, and communities in the United States. The intent of this workshop (and the proposed series of regional workshops) was to examine a metropolitan region as case study so that researchers and practitioners could improve their understanding of some of the spatial and temporal aspects of urban sustainability.

The metropolitan Atlanta region provided a compelling example for exploring urban sustainability issues because the region faces rapid growth and has experienced well-documented challenges related to water, land use, and transportation. As of 2009, approximately 515,000 people resided in the city of Atlanta; about 43 percent of the population were white and 50 percent were African American. The median household income (in inflation-adjusted dollars) was about $50,000, and about 46 percent of the population had a bachelor’s degree or higher. About 18 percent of families lived below the poverty level during this period (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011a). The Atlanta metropolitan area includes 28 counties in northern Georgia. In 2009, the total estimated population for this area was 5,475,213 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011b).


An expert planning committee was appointed by the National Research Council to organize a workshop in Atlanta, Georgia, that would explore the region’s approach to urban sustainability, with an emphasis on building the evidence base upon which policies and programs might be developed. On September 30 and October 1, 2010, an ad hoc committee on behalf of the National Academies’ Science and Technology for Sustainability Program hosted the workshop, and participants examined how the interaction of various systems (natural and human systems; energy, water, and transportation systems) affected the region’s social, economic, and environmental conditions (see Appendix A).

The four objectives of the workshop were as follows:

  1. Discuss the ways that regional actors are approaching sustainability—specifically, how they are attempting to merge environmental, social, and economic objectives.

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