Designing Cities of the Future

March 7, 2014 | by Jill Sakai

The Office of Sustainability and Nelson Institute of Environmental Studies are re-envisioning the cities of the future in a proposal being developed for the National Science Foundation’s Sustainability Research Network program.

Many of our cities currently rely on outdated industrial infrastructure that was designed for a different set of demands and conditions, says Nelson Institute director Paul Robbins. Upgrading or replacing existing systems – both social and physical – will require careful planning and investment of limited resources, along with the integration of engineering, climate science, data management, computation and modeling, and social science.

“We hope to renew our industrial-based Midwestern cities into vibrant and sustainable communities, moving from ‘rust belt’ to ‘green belt’,” says Craig Benson, Director of Sustainability Research and Education in the Office of Sustainability.

The proposed project will create a multidisciplinary network of researchers from multiple UW units and other universities, research centers, and consortia. Together they will imagine and design a new adaptive urban infrastructure that is capable of coping with future climate conditions, such as extreme heat or precipitation events. Research clusters within the network will tackle topics including stormwater, energy and microgrids, food systems, computational sustainability, urban planning and decision-making.

By directing research at the interface of infrastructure and decision-making, the project will support improved management of urban planning, air quality, water, energy, transportation, and food systems, helping local and regional governments meet the challenge of urban sustainability.

Researchers interested in joining the project network should contact Paul Robbins.