Sustainable Cities and Their Built Environment

More than half the world’s population inhabits cities and that number grows by 73 million people every year. Cities are responsible for 70 per cent of carbon emissions and 60 to 80 per cent of energy consumption.

Cities that lack adequate planning can become congested and polluted leading to lower life expectancy, reduced productivity and damage to the economy.  A high population concentration also makes cities vulnerable to natural disasters.

The Center for Sustainability Solutions seeks to study ways to build urban resilience, making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

To learn more about the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities click here.

Sample Papers

Social Sustainability and Global Climate Change

By Lawrence A. Palinkas, Marleen Wong

Social Work and Sustainability in Asia


Maintaining social sustainability in the context of global climate change is among the most pressing challenges facing contemporary societies in the Asia-Pacific Rim. These societies are increasingly being confronted with a host of changes in the physical environment, ranging from natural disasters, rising air and water temperatures, rising sea levels and ocean acidification, prolonged droughts and scarcity of fresh water in some regions, and extensive flooding in other regions. All of these changes are contributing to the wholesale destruction of natural ecosystems on land and sea. They also have profound social implications, threatening human health and well-being, destabilizing assets, coping capacities, and response infrastructures, and substantially increasing the number of socially, economically, and psychologically vulnerable individuals and communities. Moreover, these impacts will not affect everyone equally, leading to new social inequities with significant social justice implications. In this chapter, we summarize the human impacts of global climate change with a focus on the sustainability of individuals, families, and communities. We then address strategies for promoting sustainability in the face of two specific impacts: population displacement and disaster response and recovery. These strategies adhere to a three-tier model of climate change impact and response, and include microlevel interventions designed to prevent and mitigate behavioral and mental health impacts; mezzo-level interventions to prevent and mitigate social conflict within families and communities; and macro-level policies and programs designed to build and support individual, families, and community resilience, assets, and action.

Can compact rail transit corridors transform the automobile city? Planning for more sustainable travel in Los Angeles

By Douglas Houston, Marlon Boarnet, Gavin Ferguson, Steven Spears

Urban Studies


Directing growth towards compact rail corridors has become a key strategy for redirecting auto-oriented regions towards denser, mixed-use communities that support sustainable travel. Few have examined how travel of near-rail residents varies within corridors or whether corridor land use–travel interactions diverge from regional averages. The Los Angeles region has made substantial investments in transit-oriented development, and our survey analysis indicates that although rail corridor residents drove less and rode public transit more than the county average, households in an older subway corridor with more near-transit development had about 11 fewer daily miles driven and higher transit ridership than households along a newer light rail line, a difference likely associated with development patterns and the composition and preferences of residents. Rail transit corridors are not created equally, and transit providers and community planners should consider the social and development context of corridors in efforts to improve transit access and maximise development.

Analysis of energy impacts of facade-inclusive retrofit strategies, compared to system-only retrofits using regression models

By Andrea Martinez, Joon-Ho Choi

Energy and Buildings


Reducing the energy consumption in existing buildings became one of the critical challenges at the beginning of the 21st century. Several types and levels of retrofits are now being implemented in the building stock. To obtain a better understanding of the actual impact of these actions, evidence-based research has been playing an increasingly important role. This paper describes the collection of data on measured pre- and post-retrofit energy consumption of a group of buildings in the U.S., in order to distinguish the impacts of different levels of retrofits. In particular, the goal has been to distinguish how retrofits including facade improvements compare to those centered exclusively on internal systems. Additionally, energy data was collected for a subset of non-retrofitted buildings and used as the control group. The regression model revealed greater energy savings from retrofits including the facade as compared to those that excluded it. However, those savings are modest considering the energy reductions that are anticipated from deep-energy retrofits. Other relevant factors, such as occupants and their behavior, are vital for determining the value of retrofits and need to be incorporated in the next phases of this study.

Environmentalism with Chinese Characteristics? Urban River Revitalization in Foshan

By Eric Heikkila

Planning Theory & Practice


Human settlements have long been located on rivers, and the relationship of the place to the river functions as a deep reflection of its historical, cultural, and socio-economic traditions. This paper explores urban river revitalization in contemporary China, focusing particularly on ongoing efforts to clean up Foshan’s polluted Fenjiang River. The research shows that the traditional cultural status of the waterway, which is known as the “Mother River” of Foshan, plays a paradoxically pivotal role in the project to modernize it. Interacting in complex ways with domestic and international political concerns, and popular media and internet technologies, the cultural status of the river has helped to determine both the type of environmental movement that has emerged in its defence, and the community of interests that serves as a proxy for civil society in that movement. Ultimately, this paper argues that the unique configuration of institutions and actors engaged in the Fenjiang River restoration project are emblematic of a new type of “environmentalism with Chinese characteristics.”

Geographic Segmentation via Latent Poisson Factor Model

By Rose Yu, Andrew Gelfand, Suju Rajan, Cyrus Shahabi, Yan Liu

Proceedings of the Ninth ACM International Conference on Web Search and Data Mining


Discovering latent structures in spatial data is of critical importance to understanding the user behavior of location based services. In this paper, we study the problem of geographic segmentation of spatial data, which involves dividing a collection of observations into distinct geo-spatial regions and uncovering abstract correlation structures in the data. We introduce a novel, Latent Poisson Factor (LPF) model to describe spatial count data. The model describes the spatial counts as a Poisson distribution with a mean that factors over a joint item-location latent space. The latent factors are constrained with weak labels to help uncover interesting spatial dependencies. We study the LPF model on a mobile app usage data set and a news article readership data set. We empirically demonstrate its effectiveness on a variety of prediction tasks on these two data sets.

Climate models can correctly simulate the continuum of global-average temperature variability

By Feng Zhu, Julien Emile-Geay, Nicholas P. McKay, Gregory J. Hakim, Deborah Khider, Toby R. Ault, Eric J. Steig, Sylvia Dee, James W. Kirchner

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America


Measures of climate are known to exhibit scaling behavior with large exponents, resulting in larger fluctuations at longer timescales. It has been suggested that climate models underestimate these fluctuations [1-4], casting doubt on their ability to predict the amplitude of climate variability over coming decades and centuries. Using the latest simulations and data syntheses, as well as spectral methods tailored to scaling estimation, we find agreement for spectra derived from observations and models on timescales ranging from interannual to multi-millennial. Our results confirm the existence of a regime transition between orbital and annual peaks [5], occurring around millennial periodicities. That both simple and comprehensive ocean-atmosphere models can reproduce these features suggests that long-range persistence is a consequence of the oceanic integration of both gradual and abrupt climate forcings. The result implies that decadal to millennial variability over the Holocene is partly a consequence of the climate system’s integrated memory of orbital forcing. While climate models imperfectly depict some aspects of spatiotemporal variability, we find that they appear contain the essential physics to correctly simulate the temperature continuum. We hypothesize that the deep ocean plays a key role in integrating forcings, keeping a long memory of past events, and having the ability to strongly influence climate states. We therefore suggest that a critical element of successful simulations at sub-orbital scales are initial conditions of the deep ocean state that are consistent with observations of the recent past. Failing to provide such initial conditions sets the models up for failure.

Toward Sustainable Production: Finding Workable Strategies for Government and Industry

By Daniel Press, Daniel Mazmanian

Environmental Policy: New Directions for the Twenty-First Century


Assessing changes in HIV-related legal and policy environments: Lessons learned from a multi-country evaluation

By Laura Ferguson, Alexandra Nicholson, Ian Henry, Amitrajit Saha, Tilly Sellers, Sofia Gruskin

Public Library of Science One


There is growing recognition in the health community that the legal environment-including laws, policies, and related procedures-impacts vulnerability to HIV and access to HIV-related services both positively and negatively. Assessing changes in the legal environment and how these affect HIV-related outcomes, however, is challenging, and understanding of appropriate methodologies nascent

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