2005 Salt Lake City Annual Meeting (October 16–19, 2005)

Paper No. 7
Presentation Time: 5:00 PM


HEIKEN, Grant, 331 Windantide Place, Freeland, WA 98249-9683 and VALENTINE, Greg, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, NM 87545, GAV@lanl.gov

More than half of Earth's population lives in cities today, a figure that is projected to grow to nearly 5 billion in the coming quarter-century. As is evident from the effects of the recent hurricanes in New Orleans, the city environment is increasingly coupled with and vulnerable to natural processes. For the purposes of planning, day-to-day management, and emergency response, a comprehensive, dynamic view of a city should be required. Some recommendations include creating Geographic Information System databases to establish a framework for linked numerical models of all of the natural and infrastructure systems that comprise a city. Some of the areas that could use more scientific analysis are: water and air quality, energy resources, building materials, the fate and transport of chemicals from pollution or chemical/biological weapons attack and understanding urban microenvironments as incubators of disease, to name but a few.

It is important that the traditional walls between disciplines be broken down to understand the interconnectivities between this complex “system of systems” that is a city. Many of the components are within the atmospheric sciences, earth sciences, and even space weather. As things are now, nearly every city department across the nation is balkanized and doesn't realize the interconnectivities between departments until there is a disaster. At the city level there should, for example, be a team of scientists, engineers, economists, and sociologists, or at least liaisons between city departments.

We need integrated urban science as an important part of the university culture; 78% of the U.S. population lives in towns or cities. Universities must also do more to create collaborations between departments and offer multidisciplinary courses on various aspects of urban sciences to train pioneers that will have new ways of managing a city. We also need more involvement of professional engineering and geoscience organizations in urban issues.

We are seeing some efforts, like the Central Arizona-Phoenix integrated urban research programs at Arizona State University, but we need cross-departmental research on the urban environment at most universities. We need scientists interested in urban issues to present papers to organizations like the National League of Cities. The scientific community needs to further embrace urban systems as an important and credible field of research, in part by promoting a new generation of science-based urban planners. None of these changes will be easy, but we need to recognize that applying science and technology to the urban condition is mandatory thinking as we move into the future. In many cities, for example, there is no holistic understanding of even the most basic aspects of, for example, their water systems. Long term research on natural hazard risk and mitigation, if implemented, can benefit a city. Robert Leggett, the foremost expert on urban geology in the 20th century, emphasized that the natural setting of a city is its foundation. In the past, most urban planning decisions were made with little or no regard for the role of the natural setting in the city's long-term heath and stability. An understanding of geology has been shown to have a huge impact on urban management and mitigation of natural hazards. From our perspective, cities with similar environments could benefit from a regular exchange of ideas and management policies.. The volcanological community, for example, has encouraged this sort of exchange with regular interdisciplinary meetings in “volcano cities,” which involve many professions other than that of volcanology, including city managers and politicians.