The biggest source of uncertainty in our future climate is the choices people will make. This uncertainty highlights the opportunity we have to avoid some of climate change’s worst humanitarian consequences- which will be focused in cities. Cities act as concentrators of interactions between human, infrastructural, and environmental sectors. As a result, they provide a useful laboratory for observing interactions between social and physical processes and exploring opportunities for managing and mitigating cascades from adverse climate events through infrastructure systems that cause harm to people and social systems. However, quantifying interactions between social systems and the physical environment has long been a major scientific challenge. A better empirical understanding of dynamic interactions between these sectors is necessary to support predictions of how people and cities will respond to climate change, ensure energy and water security, and facilitate urban sustainability and resilience.
In the MultiSector Dynamics Urban Working Group, we aspire to identify specific pathways forward for building quantitative, fundamental, and generalizable knowledge about human-urban-environment interactions. In one specific example, we are looking for a characteristic distribution in the volume of individual buildings within a city. If this exists, it could be used for projecting characteristics of urban infrastructure given changes in population, and would be useful for characterizing potential climate impacts accounting for climate change, population growth, and infrastructure change. Identifying general patterns in urban characteristics and dynamics may contribute towards our aim of informing the complex tradeoffs facing urban areas, increasing urban resilience to changing stressors, and advancing equity, justice, and environmental sustainability.