ASU gathers experts for international urban sustainability workshop

Guided by the principle that today’s cities are laboratories and their leaders are researchers in the new science of urban sustainability, Arizona State University’s (ASU) Jonathan Fink, along with two British colleagues, will lead Comparative Urban Genetics: Towards a Common Methodology for Pragmatic Analysis of Cities. The workshop event takes place this weekend, May 21-23, at University College London (UCL) in London, England.

Fink, who is the Director of the Center for Sustainability Science Applications within the Global Institute of Sustainability, Foundation Professor for the School of Sustainability, and Foundation Professor of Geological Sciences for the School of Earth and Space Exploration, will bring together government and business representatives, researchers, and urban experts to contrast the experiences of two cities: London and Phoenix. From a comprehensive perspective, the group will consider new ways to collect complex data streams that feed information into models, help envision the future and, ultimately, translate those visions into improved urban policies.

“No matter how different urban environments may look on their surface, they typically share innumerable points of similarity,” said Fink. “When we uncover these shared paths and patterns--the "genetic code" of cities--we move significantly closer to curing urban ills and putting our successful practices to the highest and best use.”

Guided by experts in their fields, and funded in part by the British Consulate in Los Angeles, workshop participants will address four key questions:

  • How can urban decision-making be transformed by new datasets and analysis tools?
  • Can cataloguing and classifying urban traits help city leaders learn from each other?
  • Which tools are most appropriate and useful for which stages of urban development?
  • How can we build multi-sector (corporate, government, NGO, academic) urban partnerships?

These questions build on a long series of applied urban research projects, including a recently-published Tyndall Centre report that studied Greater London’s vulnerability to climate change and a U.S. National Science Foundation project at ASU titled “Decision Center for a Desert City,” which evaluates ways that arid region water managers allocate their scarce resource in the face of uncertainty due to the heat island effect, population growth, and climate change.

Co-convenors Mike Batty from UCL and Jim Hall from Newcastle University have both spent the past few years working with ASU researchers and a global network of collaborators to develop a common urban methodology that can help all cities address their long-term sustainability.

“Cities are where most people live and work; most innovation takes place; most pollution and wealth are generated; and most vulnerability to climate change occurs,” said Batty. “We need to study these phenomena and make a more common practice of compiling, publishing and comparing this critical information."

Along with leaders from American and European public and private sectors, key workshop speakers and panelists from ASU include Philip Christensen, Regents Professor, School of Earth and Space Exploration; Matthew Fraser, co-director of research development, Global Institute of Sustainability and associate professor, School of Sustainability; Subhajit Guhathakurta, Professor, School of Sustainability and Professor, School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning; Rob Pahle, Assistant Professor of Research, Decision Theater; and Lela Prashad, Director, 100 Cities Project

More information on Comparative Urban Genetics workshop is available at

About the Center for Sustainability Science Applications
The Center for Sustainability Science Applications promotes research that reconciles the needs of society and nature through projects involving urban systems, climate change, and sustainable technologies. The Center leverages collaborations between faculty of Arizona State University and global partners. Its programs combine a systems approach with new technologies relevant to arid cities, such as solar power and water conservation and aims to enhance conflict resolution, decision-making, scenario exploration, and stakeholder engagement. The Center for Sustainability Science Applications is affiliated with ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability and the School of Earth and Space Exploration ( For more information about the Center for Sustainability Science Applications visit:

About ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability
The Global Institute of Sustainability is the hub of ASU’s sustainability initiatives. The Institute advances research, education, and business practices for an urbanizing world. Its School of Sustainability, the first of its kind in the U.S., offers integrated degree programs that advance practical solutions to environmental, economic, and social challenges. ASU has a vision to be a New American University, blurring the boundaries that traditionally separate academic disciplines, promoting excellence among its students and faculty, conducting cutting-edge interdisciplinary research inspired by real world application, and leveraging its competitive advantage through strategic global engagement.