Throughout the workshop, speakers and participants discussed the importance of examining urban sustainability through interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary lenses. Workshop participants divided into three groups to discuss key issues related to the intersection of urban climate change mitigation and adaptation, urban health, and sustainable transportation, including green infrastructure and urban flooding in China and the United States. The discussion below summarizes some main points from each of the breakout groups.
Participants in this breakout session discussed challenges and opportunities for a circular economy transition in cities with the support of energy innovation and green infrastructure, including those related to critical water and waste issues.
Common themes and issues discussed during the session, as highlighted by session moderator Yong-Guan Zhu, director general of the Institute of Urban Environment, Chinese Academy of Science, included:
- Recognizing knowledge gaps around green infrastructure. Participants discussed that the definition of green infrastructure is problematic. Constructing a framework to quantify the benefits of inputs and outputs and a methodology to evaluate the co-benefits of green
infrastructure would strengthen research, several suggested. This would include understanding the benefits of initiatives related to green space, biodiversity conservation, and climate change, among other areas.
- Assessing the impact of green infrastructure. There is a gap in understanding of the effectiveness of green infrastructure as compared to traditional engineering solutions. Participants described the robustness of green infrastructure and the need to develop additional systems, for example, those that can harvest the green biomass for energy or for other uses.
- Addressing e-waste. Participants also discussed that green infrastructure solutions will not be able to address challenges related to e-waste directly. More research and technology will be needed to address this issue in the urban circular economy.
- Addressing organic waste. This waste can be utilized in urban/ peri-urban food production and urban green infrastructure. For example, some material after treatment can be fed back into green infrastructure processes; however, more innovation is needed to make the system more robust and economically viable in the field.
- Engineering solutions for urban systems. Participants discussed the need for a better code of practices for green infrastructure, including more standardization. Standards of practice would help ensure the robustness of nature-based solutions and monitor effectiveness.
- Decision making and urban sustainability. There are knowledge gaps in terms of how institutional structures and divided decision-making power affect nature-based solutions (e.g., dividend power between municipalities).
- Monitoring of nature-based solutions. There is a need to improve what is known about urban monitoring, particularly in examining the impact of a nature-based solution.
- Communication around urban issues. Participants discussed methods for simplifying complex information on urban sustainability issues into ways to communicate with urban planners.
Participants in this breakout session discussed various issues related to moving toward people-centric design for sustainable cities. Some topics
included climate migrants and well-being, livability of cities and neighborhoods, provision of social service, preparation for the aged society, and science-policy action to connect economic development activities and job creation.
Moderator Frances Colón, chief executive officer of Jasperi Consulting, summarized the key points made by participants during the discussion, including:
- The role of citizens. How citizens can inform critical issues in urban sustainability was a key topic discussed, including identifying mechanisms to better integrate citizens into decision-making.
- Consideration of inequities in urban design. The first step for scientists in urban planning is to listen to poor, low-resource communities. Participants suggested that urban planning must be done with the most vulnerable in mind, first and foremost.
- Moving beyond greenhouse gases (GHGs). Urban sustainability efforts cannot focus on GHG emissions solely, they must also examine, for example, adaptation to climate change impacts, vulnerability of front-line communities, and densification of urban cities that can create heat islands, when a metropolitan area is warmer than the surrounding rural areas.
- Broadening participation. Understanding who is and should be at the table (e.g., community members, scientists, decision makers, business sector) to more fully engage on urban sustainability issues is critical.
- Incorporating the pedestrian into design. People experience the city on the street level, and that must be considered when planning a city from above. There is a nuance to the pedestrian experience that cannot be found through satellite data.
- Role of decision makers. Decision makers’ role in these issues, including the shortness of some political cycles and who makes decisions in the government, was discussed. The importance of the political process and the impact it has on these decisions must not be underestimated.
- Communicating data to inform decisions. Science communication and how communities are educated about these issues was also a key issue discussed. If data are not conveyed to decision makers in a way that matters to them, the data will not create change.
Participants during this breakout session discussed the water-food-health nexus, synergies between environmental management and social development, and linkages between air quality conservation and green public transportation. Moderator Chengri Ding, professor in the School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation at University of Maryland, summarized key topics discussed during the session:
Benefits of cross-sectoral approaches. Regarding benefits of cross-sectoral approaches for urban sustainability, the group discussed the need to:
- Allow researchers to examine urban areas as a whole, including water-food-health-transportation issues;
- Allow researchers to identify areas they are struggling with, research gaps, and contexts affecting process and outcomes for urban sustainability, such as geographic scales, role of the local context, and cultural content;
- Enable several scientific disciplines to communicate with each other;
- Understand differences and similarities, including how to translate one solution into other places and build up urban science;
- Conduct a systematic review on what works, what does not work, and over what scale, including issues related to transportation (actual vehicles), energy-sector transformation (renewables), and manufacturing sectors, etc.
- Barriers to cross-sectoral collaboration. These barriers related to urban sustainability include the lack of collaboration among different disciplines and a need for education and next generation training through an interdisciplinary approach. Participants agreed that one mechanism that works for one city in the promotion of sustainable growth may not work for other cities or the city as a whole. There is a need to look at specific cases.
- Developing and broadening partnerships. In terms of mechanisms to develop effective partnerships to support cross-sectoral approaches, the group discussed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report and Sustainable Development Goals. These
efforts address not only urban issues, but also integrating other relevant challenges such as transportation, food, and health.
- Role of basic research. There is also a need for basic research in order to solve problems with a full understanding of urban systems and communities.
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