Science of Cities

Introducing the Science of Cities

As our world urbanizes, the future of our cities becomes increasingly high-stakes.

How can cities shrink their carbon footprints, and perhaps sequester as much carbon as they emit? How can we use data to predict and prevent urban pandemics? What is the promise of technology in making cities safer, healthier and more environmentally sound — and what are its limits?

We don’t yet know definitive answers to these questions. We do know, however, that we now have the ability — using technology, data and science — to gather more information than ever before about the intricate, interlocking systems that make up cities.

That information holds enormous potential to improve many aspects of urban life, from road design to noise abatement to air quality. The use of “big data” and the dawn of “smart cities” also raise ethical and practical questions: Who controls the data? What happens when the computer hits a glitch?

Science of Cities — this column— will be our weekly exploration of the information that is reshaping how we plan, manage and govern cities. The column is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation as part of its work to explore new ways of understanding the complex and interconnected challenges faced by cities around the world, from violence to climate change, and how to plan, manage, and govern to address them.

Both nouns in the column’s name are subject to interpretation, and I plan to interpret them broadly. Science of Cities will examine emerging research and innovations with a curious but critical eye. We will approach this topic with cautious optimism that many of these discoveries can make a real difference in the places that billions of us call home.

An advisory committee of accomplished scholars will support the column, including Eric Klinenberg, professor of sociology at NYU; Laura Kurgan, professor of architecture at Columbia; Anthony Townsend, author of SMART CITIES: Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for a New Utopia; and Xavier de Souza Briggs, vice president of economic opportunity and assets at the Ford Foundation. Offering deep expertise from a variety of perspectives, this committee will be a vital source of ideas and feedback. I hope you will be, too. You can reach me at becca@rebeccatuhusdubrow.net, or on Twitter @BeccaTuDu.

The Science of Cities column is made possible with the support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow is a columnist for Next City. She has also written for the New York Times, Slate and Dissent, among other publications.

Tags: technologydatapublic healthcarbon emissionsscience of cities