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Advancing research and policy for sustainability: a framework for urban observatories
1  University of Texas at Austin


Contemporary environmental problems, such as climate change, loss of biodiversity, and resource depletion (quantity and quality of water, energy, etc.) present formidable challenges for 21st century resilience. Transition to resilience is a particularly salient idea for cities, which are often conceptualized as complex socio-environmental adaptive systems. Making cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable will require a conceptualization of urban resilience that connects knowledge production to implementation action. Resilience, both general and specified, depends on the ability for cities to create and diffuse innovative sustainable solutions to complex social and environmental challenges. Research and development of urban resilience theory and knowledge is burgeoning, yet the uptake to policy has been slow. To bridge data gaps and improve information availability, urban indicators have played a key role connecting knowledge to policy at least since the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. Combining data on indicators, including lessons learned from urban indicator projects, with new urban data streams (both designed and organic) new pathways are created for data-driven approaches to resilience planning, policy, and theory. Beyond data issues, an integrative and holistic approach is necessary to develop effective sustainability science that synthesizes different sources of knowledge, relevant disciplines, multi-sectoral alliances, connections to policy-makers and to the public. This paper emerges from an effort to develop an interoperable, networked infrastructure of urban observatories to generate a baseline of standardized long-term, large-scale datasets about human and natural dimensions of metropolitan systems in the state of Texas. Informed by and informing resilience theory, we conceptualize an “observatory” of urban data that allows for strategic research and decision-making oriented towards the mitigation of the consequences of urbanization and climate change. The Texas Urban Observatory project is part of Planet Texas 2050, a University of Texas-Austin grand challenges initiative.

Keywords: Urban data; knowledge networks; co-production; observatory