Policy ForumUrban Science

Global science for city policy

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Science  12 Jan 2018:
Vol. 359, Issue 6372, pp. 165-166
DOI: 10.1126/science.aao2728

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Research and data are increasingly at the heart of how we conceive of urban governance. Urban control rooms and city dashboards championed by cities like Chicago, São Paulo, and London have been promising real-time snapshots and tracking over time of urban systems, via geolocated mobility data sets, social media inputs, environmental sensors, and other tools (1). At the international level, the importance of urban research and data has been enshrined in major United Nations (UN) processes, from the UN New Urban Agenda, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to the World Data Forum (2). Yet overall, the global state of data-informed urban governance remains underdeveloped, often promising, as with the dashboards, more than it actually delivers. It is time for a step change. A truly global reform of scientific advice to cities must take place on multiple interconnected fronts, linking a UN action plan on science and the future of cities, a “good advice” commitment by the private sector, and formalized partnerships for urban science at the local level. This scientifically informed urban reform, ripe for discussion at the upcoming UN World Urban Forum in February, can be uniquely bold in recognizing the potential of municipal action on global challenges. Despite being considered the “lowest” level of governance, cities have developed a track record of global action on key matters like climate, disasters, and health, often surpassing, in speed, commitments, and global coverage, that of nations.