Worldwide urbanization and the growing availability of data on many facets of cities is quickly leading to the development of our fundamental understanding of cities at many different scales, creating the discipline of urban science and enabling transformative new applications. In this talk, I will start by describing the emerging framework for understanding cities as complex systems, made up of interconnected social and infrastructural networks, and channeling human agency towards societal change. I will then provide two illustrations of new research characterizing i) measures of human development in US cities and neighborhoods and ii) the structure of African cities measured via massive new building footprint datasets. I will argue that analysis of systemic datasets such as these in the light of concepts and tools of urban science, allow us new models of sustainable urban development that reframe technological, engineering and policy approaches to cities.
Luís M. A. Bettencourt is the Inaugural Director the Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation at the University of Chicago and Professor of Ecology and Evolution at the College. He is also Associate Faculty of the Department of Sociology and External Professor at the Santa Fe Institute. He conducts interdisciplinary research on complex adaptive systems in biology and society. His research focuses on the identification, modeling and theory of the systemic processes and properties that create and sustain cities. This work uses interdisciplinary concepts together with many different forms of evidence and data to create new theoretical and methodological syntheses that account for the complex properties of urban environments and produce new science-based solutions. His work is well-known academically and has been influential in developing new theory and new creative approaches to challenges of urbanization worldwide. His new book Introduction to Urban Science (MIT Press, 2021) provides an interdisciplinary synthesis of these ideas and a vision for the future of cities.