This session explored three questions:
- What is urbanization?
- Which principles should be considered when developing a collaborative research environment?
- How does one consider the cultural aspects of cities when conducting research?
Three speakers gave presentations in this session, which was moderated by John Carfora, Associate Provost for Research Advancement and Compliance at Loyola Marymount University. Eric Strauss, President’s Professor of Biology and Executive Director of the Center for Urban Resilience at Loyola Marymount University, discussed the role that healthy cities can play in international research collaborations. Osman Ahmed, Head of Global Research and Innovation at Siemens Building Technologies Inc., described an open innovation platform for sustainable cities that is producing a paradigm shift in international collaboration. Jurij Paraszczak, Director of IBM Research Industry Solutions and Leader of the Research Smarter Cities Program at IBM, spoke about the use of analytics as applied to cities to gain information about culture.
Presenter: Eric Strauss, President’s Professor of Biology and Executive Director of the Center for Urban Resilience at Loyola Marymount University
The field of urban ecology is a rather new one, said Eric Strauss. Urban ecology is an emerging and interdisciplinary science that uses the tools of the natural and physical sciences together with those of the social sciences to study
cities and understand resiliency. Cities make up three percent of the world’s land mass but are home to about half of the world’s population. Urbanization, he noted, is a dominant demographic trend and the most important component of land transformation processes. Urban areas have some of the largest populations of underrepresented people (i.e., race, ethnicity, economic status) and as a result “present an extraordinary opportunity to re-envision how we teach science, how we engage stakeholders, and how we reimagine the boundaries of how we conduct our research,” said Strauss.
Urbanization offers many opportunities for studying new phenomena, Strauss explained. For example, urbanization in the United States has brought with it an amazing transformation in terms of what Americans can eat without fear of succumbing to food poisoning. “In developing nations, food poisoning is a serious problem,” said Strauss. He added, though, that “we have traded ease and access to cheap, safe food for long-term challenges associated with behavioral diseases related to this kind of food consumption.” The easy access to cheap, high-calorie food and the kind of clustering in the way those in the cities live is a new phenomenon for humans, he noted. “In many ways our government systems, our organizations for instruction, and our organizations for engaging stakeholders, are not prepared for these kinds of clusters,” Strauss said.
The largest and fastest growing megacities in the world are now in developing nations, and as much as 30 percent of the population in those cities is living in abject poverty. Strauss believes that technology and international outreach can create transformative opportunities for researchers in the sciences and extraordinary opportunities for communities to gain resilience. Historically, ecology with regard to human activity has focused on the idea of sustainability, or stabilizing the currently disruptive relationship between human culture, the earth’s most complex ecosystem, and the living world. But given that systems are incredibly dynamic, what is needed—and where urban ecology is starting to focus—is resiliency in the face of those dynamics.
In its early days, urban ecology operated on the principle that cities are an imposition on nature, but today urban ecologists are thinking more about the functional consequences of heterogeneity found in cities. “Cities are much more diverse than we had anticipated, and some of the rules that we thought we would find in cities using a model of imposition do not fit,” said Strauss. For example, the number of birds living in cities is higher than the number that live outside of cities, though diversity is higher outside of cities. As another example, urban rivers do not behave the way ecologists predicted based on an imposition model.
Today, there are four guiding principles for urban ecology: (1) cities are open, multi-scale systems with a wide range and size of habitats in a mosaic; (2) they are heterogeneous ecosystem composites that are patchy in terms of
microclimates, hydrology, and economics; (3) cities are complex adaptive systems with biophysical and social legacies as feedback; and (4) cities are functional socio-ecological systems that can be framed in terms of ecosystem services and environmental justice. Taken together, these four principles sensitize the relationship of science to the people that science serves, which Strauss said is a significant change in that it means that science has to show a direct human benefit if the goal is to advocate for the environment. “If you are asking people in the city of Washington, DC to plant 100,000 trees, those are funds that could be used to hire teachers or hire fireman, so you better be able to justify the value of those trees,” he said.
Ecologists, said Strauss, have always been measuring biological diversity, and arguably the life sciences are about understanding diversity on different scales. “I would argue that we are framing it differently in the context of urban ecology,” he stated. “We are measuring diversity as it relates to the services that we require from healthy urban ecosystems.” These ecosystem services, he explained, provide resilience to urban dwellers as stakeholders, where resilient systems are those that are able to absorb shock—in this case global environmental change—and be able to continue in their function. Strauss noted that the National Science Foundation recognized this shift in its 2007 decadal plan for its long-term ecological research stations around the country. This plan calls for all funded projects to bring together the natural and social sciences to better understand resilience. “Ecologists have traditionally studied biotic structure and function,” he said. We are gaining a better understanding of the interaction between ecosystems services and human outcomes, and how changes in human behavior can modify our impact on those structures.
He cited a study his group has been conducting on feral cats in Los Angeles. There are some million feral cats in Los Angeles and they are major predators of birds. His group has shown that when coyotes move into an area they kill some, though not many, cats, but the effect is that cats change their behavior. “If you are a cat, a coyote is a terrorist,” he said. “You don’t often die, but you are afraid all the time.” As a result, cats do not hunt as efficiently, bird populations rebound and suppress insect populations, and insecticide use drops. “Ultimately, coyotes are an ecosystem service,” said Strauss.
Strauss concluded his remarks by noting that in the United States, urban ecology falls in the domain of the Ecological Society of America, but there is a new organization forming in Europe called the Society for Urban Ecology. Its mission is to foster and develop new knowledge of urban ecology worldwide and it is doing this by strengthening contacts and dialogues among the wider international community.
Presenter: Osman Ahmed, Head of Global Research and Innovation at Siemens Building Technologies Inc.
There are four elements to a sustainable city, Osman Ahmed explained to the workshop participants: recycle everything, reduce consumption, increase efficiency, and learn from nature. The key to creating those four elements is making sure that the necessary investments are affordable. He laid out the principles of the open innovation model that Siemens uses. An open innovation model has no boundaries for research and development, which means that intellectual property can be licensed in from, or out to, any entity—an individual, a company, a university—as a means of establishing an innovation-accelerating environment. An open innovation model uses collaborative funding and it changes the commercialization paradigm from research and develop to connect and develop. It is a model that can span the globe and that creates a good environment for collaboration.
As an example, Ahmed discussed a Siemens project with the government of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. This ongoing project, which also involves the government-owned Masdar Institute, is creating a living laboratory that uses an entire city, known as Masdar City, to implement and test ideas, developed elsewhere, linked to the living laboratory. The goal of this project is to accelerate the commercialization of intellectual property related to power grid technology in a way that benefits the government, academia, and Siemens and that ends with development of a carbon-neutral city of 50,000 people. He noted that economic pressure and the local political climate have slowed this project considerably.
Given the scope of this project, it should come as no surprise that the focus of the strategic partnership was multifaceted and involved a large number of stakeholders. Focusing on one aspect of the project, developing new building technologies, Ahmed explained that there are four primary stakeholders. Siemens Building Technologies, together with its partners, provides investment, technology and resources, and commercializes innovative products. Masdar Institute and its partners conduct research and test prototypes, and by doing so, the institute becomes a premier research institute for green building technologies. Masdar City and its partners invest in the technology infrastructure and act as the innovation hub. If this approach works, Abu Dhabi shifts its economy from one based on construction to one based on innovation.
Ahmed noted that one of the lessons that he has learned from this and smaller projects he has been involved with in China, Europe, and North America is that technology partners need to drop the attitude of “my way or the
highway” and “not invented here” in order to make an innovative collaborative model work. Intellectual property issues can be contentious, he added, given the different conventions that exist in the world. European companies assume that if they fund research, the intellectual property belongs to them, while that is not the assumption in the United States. It is also important to fully understand the governance structures and transparency of those structures for partner governments.
“From the very beginning you have to understand that this is a partnership, like a marriage,” said Ahmed. “If you don’t focus on the partnership, it won’t succeed.” For the Masdar project, the partners broke the project into definable sections, or quadrants, and each partner identified five places in each quadrant that it could compromise and five things that it expected from its partners. That exercise served as the beginning of the discussion that enabled the project to move forward.
Besides compromise, this type of project requires continued commitment from the leadership of all the stakeholders. “Continuity of that commitment is perhaps more important than the commitment itself,” said Ahmed, particularly since leadership is bound to change over the course of such a long project. In closing, he noted the importance of keeping a long-term perspective when engaging in a collaborative innovation model. “If you want to have something quick, if you need to have a quick return on investment, then that will be an impediment to developing this whole collaborative innovation model.”
Presenter: Jurij Paraszczak, Director of IBM Research Industry Solutions and Leader of the Research Smarter Cities Program at IBM
Cities waste an enormous amount of resources, in large part because they lack an organizational structure that lets them see across the entire city, said Jurij Paraszczak. They lack the ability to examine the data they collect from many sources, find patterns in the data, and then use those patterns to make predictions that can enable them to operate more efficiently. He noted that in his work, he and his colleagues have yet to consider the cultural aspects of cities because there are so many easier problems to solve right now that they have not yet been able to tackle these more difficult issues and how they relate to efficiency.
One important component of a city is its infrastructure. The objective in terms of efficiency is to find, predict, replace and repair this infrastructure with maximum yield, and to deliver infrastructure-related services—electricity, water, and transportation, for example—with maximum efficiency. Doing so re-
quires managing supply so that it optimally matches demand, and that requires understanding what the city’s residents want and how they want it delivered.
In the past, cities and their consultants would look at individual problems and attempt to solve them one at a time, but today the approach is to see how these problems interact and use analytics and predictive models to develop a more integrated view of a city. One surprising lesson that Paraszczak and his colleagues have learned is that while cities have numerous problems to solve, the issue that city officials pick as their worst problem is not being able to communicate with their residents.
As an example of the type of information that analytics can provide, Paraszczak briefly discussed a project his team worked on in Minneapolis. To start, they conducted some 150 interviews with city employees in numerous agencies and learned that the best predictor of future events in the city are permits, whether they are for building, construction, liquor licenses, events, or other activities. Unfortunately, employees in one agency were unaware of permits being issued by their colleagues in other agencies, and the result was often confusion and inefficiency. For example, one agency might issue a permit for a festival while another agency could issue a permit for construction that would impact traffic trying to reach that festival. Mapping these different permits, using software that IBM now sells, can allow cities to better coordinate and plan activities and enable them to make decisions that increase efficiency.
During the ensuing discussion, Strauss noted that large-scale analytics can reveal patterns that are very small-scale, impacting specific neighborhoods or communities within a city. These very local issues can then be dealt with more efficiently using targeted educational programs. “You can use large-scale data but create interventions to work at the neighborhood scale,” said Strauss.