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Sustainable cities: Researchers discuss urban complexity

07/26/2016 - From mega-cities like Shanghai or New York to the small town around the corner: International researchers gathered in Hanover to discuss “Cities as complex systems – structure, scaling and economics”. The symposium brought together physicists, economists, geographers, and urban planners to explore the underlying mechanisms of the efficiency of our cities. Currently more than half of the world’s population lives in urban areas, a proportion that is expected to increase considerably, reaching over 90 percent of the global population by the end of this century. While about two thirds of global greenhouse-gas emissions are caused by urbanites, at the same time cities are hit particularly hard by the impacts of climate change.
Sustainable cities: Researchers discuss urban complexity

Megacity Hong Kong, Central Business District. Photo: Thinkstock

A city is not just defined by its size. “Cities are the habitat of humans”, explains Diego Rybski from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and main organizer of the symposium. “There is more to the question of what makes a city tick, from the very definition of a city to the role of population size and density”. Furthermore, cities are not just isolated units, they are embedded in space and linked to their surroundings. Their peoples are in motion, they commute from the hinterlands into and between cities, and they spend their incomes in different places to acquire goods and services. “Insights in the complex system of cities require a joint effort of the best researchers of the relevant fields”, adds co-organizer Elsa Arcaute from University College London.

Funded by the Volkswagen Foundation, the symposium highlighted and discussed works from the international research community, covering findings like that counteracting urban sprawl in the US would only slightly reduce personal driving, the dynamics of rooftop photovoltaics adoption in Germany, or the integration of migrants as it might be characterized in the languages of social media feeds in many cities of the world. “Only the joint knowledge and expertise of such diverse events can successfully address a coherent theory of cities and allow for a deep look into the heart of the essential mechanisms that make our cities work”, adds Michael Batty from University College London, the third co-organizer of the symposium.


More information on the symposium “Cities as complex systems – structure, scaling and economics” July 13-15 in Hanover/Germany:

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