Urban Sustainability Observatories: Leveraging Urban Experimentation for Sustainability Science and Policy

Cities are complex systems, and sustainability is a wicked problem. How should we approach sustainable urban systems science and policy? In this paper published in Harvard Data Science Review, we discuss the concept of data-enabled urban sustainability observatories that leverage real-world experimentation for deeper understanding and better policies.

Miller, H.J., Clifton, K., Akar, G., Tufte, K. Gopalakrishnan, S., MacArthur, J., Irwin, E., Ramnath, R., Stiles, J. (2021) “Urban sustainability observatories: Leveraging urban experimentation for sustainability science and policy,Harvard Data Science Review, 3.2, DOI: 10.1162/99608f92.2025202b


Humanity is experiencing revolutionary changes in the 21st century, including accelerating urbanization, the introduction of disruptive mobility technology services, and new sources of data generated and consumed by urban and mobility processes. However, the environmental, social, and economic sustainability implications of these new mobility services are unclear given the complex nature of urban systems and the multifaceted, contested nature of sustainability goals. In this article, we discuss the concept of urban sustainability observatories that leverage urban experimentation through ongoing data collection and analysis capabilities. The goal is to generate new scientific insights and design effective policies to meet sustainability goals for cities. We outline their functional requirements and related research challenges. We also discuss challenges in building and sustaining these observatories and how university, community, and industry partnerships may establish successful observatories that serve as critical drivers of research, technology transfer, and commercialization.

Keywords: data observatory, sustainability, urban experimentation, geospatial data, mobility data

Urban Observatory Science: Leveraging Data and Experimentation for Sustainability

I submitted a 5 minute lightning talk to the upcoming GeoConvergence Workshop: An event by the American Geographical Society in support of the National Science Foundation.

My talk, Urban Observatory Science: Leveraging Data and Experimentation for Sustainability, calls for a next-generation urban observatory science that can help make progress towards sustainable urban systems science and policy.

Here is a preview:

Mapping Science Committee of the US National Academies

I am honored and excited to be appointed to a second term as chair of the Mapping Science Committee of the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

The Mapping Science Committee organizes and oversees National Research Council studies that provide independent advice to society and to government at all levels on geospatial science, technology, and policy. It also addresses aspects of geographic information science that deal with the acquisition, integration, storage, distribution, and use of spatial data. Through its studies, the committee promotes the informed and responsible development and use of spatial data for the benefit of society.

We have a excellent committee for the 2021-2023 term – accomplished scientists, professionals and leaders in the field, spanning a wide range of geospatial science, technologies and applications:

  • Harvey Miller, chair, The Ohio State University
  • Stewart Fotheringham, Arizona State University
  • Oceana Francis, University of Hawai’i at Manoa
  • Hendrik Hamann, IBM T.J. Watson Research Center
  • Kristen Kurland, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Marguerite Madden, University of Georgia
  • Keith Masback, Plum Run, LLC
  • Kathleen Stewart, University of Maryland
  • Eric Tate, University of Iowa