Transdisciplinary research in urban Africa: A coat of many blended colors

Buyana Kareem
Uganda Management Institute, Uganda

 If the minds of different actors are gathered in a conducive space and engaged in knowledge exchange beyond the limits of their fields, breakthroughs to grand societal challenges are likely.

Transdisciplinary research is a process that seeks to foster learning across disciplines by integrating knowledge from multiple fields through the involvement of stakeholders from different sectors [i]. It shapes urban development research through a shift from collective studies –such as traditional participatory approaches that extract knowledge from urban policy makers and residents using a pre-determined framework –to collaboration in solving the greatest challenges of our time, such as decoupling economic prosperity from dependency on the environment. Using this definition, transdisciplinary research in the urban context can be analogized as a coat of many colors –knitted together by a network of peers, comprised of academics and non-academics working together as co-bearers and co-end users of knowledge. Continue reading

Planning for climate justice in American cities

Chingwen Cheng
Arizona State University, USA

In recent years, climate justice has been intensively discussed in a global context (e.g., United Nations Climate Change Conferences) and in terms of the extent to which the least carbon polluting countries (i.e., undeveloped countries and island nations) have suffered most from climate change impacts. To understand climate justice at national and local scale in American cities, this article draws knowledge from well-established environmental justice and hazard research and identifies gaps for local-based climate justice assessment in the United States by utilizing a case study from the Huron River Watershed near Detroit, Michigan. Continue reading

Non-communicable diseases in urban India: Challenges for public health

Mareike Kroll & Frauke Kraas
University of Cologne, Germany

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, pose an increasing public health challenge in urban India, especially due to changes in lifestyles, behaviours and the physical and social environments in cities. NCDs are likely to increase intra-urban health disparities and have a negative impact on poverty alleviation. The Indian government has begun to address this challenge; however, building awareness of NCDs in the general public, improving the response of the health system, and the need for a solid database for evaluating progress remain important challenges. Continue reading

Towards transformative and climate-compatible urban development pathways

Chantal Pacteau
Paris Research Consortium Climate-Environment-Society, France

We, cities and regions’ leaders from the five continents, gathered at the City Hall of Paris on Friday, December the 4th, reaffirm our commitment to tackle climate disruption. We declare solemnly that climate change is our common challenge and that advancing climate solutions is a shared responsibility, and a matter of rights, equality and social justice(…) We(…) commit collectively to advance and exceed the expected goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement …to the full extent of our authorities.

With the Paris City Hall Declaration, the thousands of city and regional authority representatives who joined during COP21 the first-of-this-kind Climate for Local Leaders Summit showed the strong commitment of cities and regions to be on the front line against climate change. For the first time, cities had their voices fully recognized at a global U. N. conference on climate change. Officially launched at COP21, the global summit Climate Chance aims to become a regular event for all non-state actors involved in the fight against climate change, linked with the UN negotiations to enable States to fulfill the commitments made at COP21.

To support effective city-level action in response to the climate challenge, cities require an iterative and continuous state-of-the-knowledge assessment process to ground their unique climate change risks and responses to adaptation and mitigation in science-based policy-making (Grafakos et al., in press) and to build pathways to urban transformation (Rozensweig et al., 2015).

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Cities, data, and greenhouse gas emissions

Stephanie Pincetl & Erik Porse
University of California, Los Angeles, USA

With a growing proportion of Earth’s human population living in cities, the role of urban systems in global environmental change is an increasingly important question (Kennedy et al., 2009; Pincetl et al., 2014; Newman et al., 1999). Buildings, in particular, are a sizeable contributor to urban energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. In U.S. cities alone, buildings produce 40% of urban greenhouse gases (GHGs). Yet, despite this easy target for reducing carbon footprints in industrialized societies, little information exists for localities to target energy efficiency and renewable generation investments across buildings.

In the United States, the 20th century was the era of utilities. In an effort to promote equal access to electricity and water services across a majority rural population, governments granted state-sanctioned monopolies to utilities to ensure equal access to these growing necessities. The relationship was simple. Your address determined your utility, which will bill you monthly for electricity, oil, water, or other services. In return for guaranteed service, utilities received a stable rate of return on their investments. The nuances of system operations, including who used resources where, were obtuse and only known by a handful of technical and policy experts charged with ensuring reliable services.

Today, however, infrastructure systems are changing. Continue reading

Cultures of nature: What does it mean to be native in the city?

Erle C. Ellis
University of Maryland, Baltimore County, USA

Conserving biodiversity is a grand challenge of the Anthropocene (Kareiva et al., 2011). As this challenge is often equated with the need to conserve native species, an important question is raised: what does it mean to conserve native species in the city — especially when species are on the move? Continue reading