The Sustainable Urban Futures Program ran from 2009-2014 at UNU-IAS. This website details the activities of the research group during that time and selected current activities of former members.

Cities and urban spaces are key components of any initiative for achieving sustainable development at the local, regional and global levels. As populations concentrate in the world’s cities, the future growth of urban centers is of particular concern for planners and policy-makers in both the developed and developing world. However, contemporary patterns of urban growth do not conform to previous experiences or expectations. Large cities in the developing world have been attracting millions of people, many of them living in sprawling slums without the most basic necessities like housing and sanitation. People living in the sprawling slums  are more vulnerable to natural disasters. This urbanization process also stresses the environmental resources within and beyond the cities’ boundaries. How and where cities will grow, what drives their growth, what impacts they will have on the environment and people’s livelihoods and how best to manage them is yet to be understood. The issue of densely populated cities and future scenarios with climatic change are of particular concern and an area that needs further attention.

This research initiative will build upon the previous extensive UNU-IAS programme called Urban Futures.

Main Areas of Work: Research Themes

– Cities and Ecosystems: analyse how the urbanization processes compete with ecosystems, looking at the institutional, economic and social dimensions

– Cities and Climate Change: understand how and why cities are affected by and are coping with climate change

– Old Problems, New Agendas for Implementation: study how to make environmental policy implementation more effective at the local level by integrating them with other policies

Challenges and Research Questions:

The programme seeks to understand the causes, consequences and solutions of urban environmental problems. We are particularly interested in examining how and why successful actions can emerge to tackle urban environmental problems in developing countries. Some of the challenges and general questions we are interested in are the following:

– City or local organisations may not have the institutional capacity or the financial resources necessary to implement effective environmental policies. How can cities create the institutional capacity to implement effective environmental policies with social inclusion?

– Cities may be overloaded with other local demands, and environmental policy may be down on the list of priorities. What processes are important to make environmental issues a policy priority for a city?

– For global issues, there is the economically rational argument that local governments are motivated to free-riding in a global public good (as climate stability). How can cities move their interests and actions/policies beyond the strictly narrow local interests/issues?

Research Activities

Our activities are developed through individual research efforts, joint research efforts and collaboration with partners.

Bridging Theory and Practice

Theory (Thinking):

Input: Gain information from multi-disciplinary literature in order to have a strong analytical ground and input from cutting edge science resources

Output: Produce quality peer-reviewed publications that are accepted by the international community and helps to build a reputation of producing high quality research

Practice (Acting):

– Input: Be well informed about global and local policy processes, take the knowledge from practice and involve this knowledge in the creation of theory

– Output: Produce practical tools and provide input to local and international processes based on the cutting edge theories and ideas