In the final session of the workshop, planning committee chair Karen Seto led a discussion of possible future steps and opportunities based on the workshop discussions. She encouraged participants to consider tangible actions and what issues the National Academies could amplify, among others. Given the differences between the United States and China, the efforts can be complementary, she added.
Dr. Seto summarized the discussion from the workshop, including several cross-cutting themes she heard:
Generational shift toward action. One issue discussed during several presentations was the generational shift that has been occurring around urban sustainability: that is, a demand for action by young people on these issues, particularly climate change. Several speakers noted that behavior change may happen more quickly with this generational shift, she noted. Students at the university level are critical to this movement, and several participants urged a consideration of how to harness this energy.
Interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approaches to urban sustainability. Several speakers discussed the need for interdisciplinary approaches for addressing urban challenges, especially the value of bringing a different allied lens to the table. There is a need to be creative in bringing in other disciplines to face sustainability challenges, for example, the humanities, design and art, and psychology. While it is very clear that more data are not
going to lead to better decisions, there are new ways to broaden understanding of these issues, such as by examining happiness, emotions, or empathy. This is where the allied fields or issues can contribute in thinking about urban sustainability, said Dr. Seto.
Spatial and temporal scales matter. Several speakers discussed the critical importance of spatial and temporal scales in urban sustainability challenges; in fact, several speakers noted that the wrong answers may result if the same spatial or temporal scales are assumed. It is clear that context matters and what is applicable across different places will differ.
Partnerships and practice. The need for stronger partnerships to support urban sustainability research and practice was discussed continuously during the workshop, Dr. Seto observed. Universities have a dual mission to research and teach, said Dr. Seto, but what is new in terms of thinking about urban sustainability is that the students also want to take action. It is not just that they want to learn theory, she continued, they want to learn how to implement it. She asked how to make them citizen-scientists and amplify their impact, and she suggested that bridging practice and knowledge in new ways and collaborating outside of university settings will drive this change.
Locked-in behavior. Several speakers discussed the role of locked-in behavior in understanding urban sustainability issues, such as related to car usage. Once behaviors are locked in, they are very entrenched, she observed.
Need for nature-based solutions. Several workshop participants discussed the need to train a workforce that can design, implement, and maintain nature-based solutions, said Dr. Seto. Participants discussed the need to develop codes and legal systems to protect nature-based solutions. This is a major knowledge gap as the focus has been almost primarily on more traditional engineering solutions, Dr. Seto stated.
Experimentation and innovation. Several participants discussed experimentation, such as innovation around net zero neighborhoods and greenscapes. More information about how to scale these efforts up is needed. Scaling up and partnerships is a big question for universities, the Academies, and others.
Policy design matters. Several speakers discussed the topic of how policy design matters in urban sustainability, Dr. Seto said. Linked to that is the critical importance of public education and communication.
Changes in public education and communication around urban sustainability. Given that most of the world now lives in urban areas, there is a need to rethink education and communication around urban sustainability in a way that can more fully engage potential students and the public. Students, at least in the United States, learn a lot about how the national government works; however, most children probably do not learn about the geography of their local city and may have no idea how their local cities are run. There is a big shift that needs to take place in thinking about urban sustainability and training the next generation, stated Dr. Seto, not only at the university level but also for K-12 students.
Role of citizens. Workshop participants discussed the importance of engaging citizens in urban sustainability issues. The key question is how to engage the average citizen to be interested in these issues.
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