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What are the “Urban Sciences”?

If you do a quick google search using the keywords “Urban Sciences”, your top results will show an incomplete Wikipedia page along with a whole slew of links to bachelor’s programs, academic journals and so on; none of which give an in-depth definition or description of this up and coming field of study.

So, as Sciago prepares to launch our site – which centers around advancing research and development in cities – we have been asking ourselves a fundamental question:

how do you get people to understand the meaning of “Urban Sciences”?


You tell them.

Urban Sciences is the all-encompassing interdisciplinary field that deals with, you guessed it, cities. Put simply, Urban Sciences is the study of the development of cities. It includes everything from architecture, to technology, to urban planning, to engineering, to anthropology – combining these disciplines to study how they interact with and influence each other within urban spaces.

And what exactly does “the development of cities” entail, you ask?

Well, this could be a lot of things. One approach could be to study the history of city development from an architectural perspective. This could include attempting to understand the impact of urban design on human behavior or how different building styles change people’s understandings of mobility. Whatever the approach, the Urban Sciences seek to understand human perceptions, development, and the interactions they have with their physical environment.

Photo by LIM ENG

Three themes that have heavily influenced how researchers have studied cities are:

  1. Spatial structures;
  2. Anthropological processes that support spatial structures; and
  3. Normative Analysis (Paddison, 2001).

So, when researchers start to explore the complexities of cities, they reflect upon how the city is physically and sociologically organized, they question through which processes the city’s structure operates, and they construct opinions supported by facts to promote better urban development methods.

Still sounding unclear to you? Maybe a brief history of this field of study will help to clarify.

Beginning in the UK and the US, the study of cities has evolved greatly since it began in the 1800s, when the first college programs were created to observe how cities were developed based off anthropological research of ghetto communities (Haynes, 2012). In the 19th century, urban scientists such as Patrick Geddes fundamentally changed how we think about urban development to a more scientific lens, which included observing the interaction between man and the natural environment. Urban planners and designers such as Ildefons Cerdà or the Baron Haussmann also made cities better places to live through the implementation of rationalized plans based on scientific evidence. By the mid-1900’s, this discipline expanded yet again, looking to how those designs would improve city development through architecture, open spaces, the interactions of people, technology and capital (Flora et. al., 2015)

Although this historic overview is miniscule, looking back at urban history is extremely important when trying to understand cities as it allows us to better conceptualize and to visualize how cities were previously developed, consequently helping us to determine how cities will evolve in the future.

Photo by JC Gellidon

Looking forward…

The Urban Sciences of today must consider how things like the rise of the digital age and rapid global urbanization will affect the cities in the future. Cities now hold the majority of the world population, capital, and opportunities but, with that, they also pose major issues when thinking of pollution, poverty, mental illness and so on.

For this reason, Sciago prioritizes Urban Science research that fosters innovative ideas and solutions which increase the sustainability, the resiliency and the competitiveness of cities. In this way, we want to help push the limits of knowledge, innovation and practices to better develop tomorrow’s cities.

Stay tuned to hear more about what are urban-researchers are working on!

Have an Urban Science related topic you want to hear more about on our blog? Leave a comment.

Flora, Cornelia Butler; Flora, Jan L.; Gasteyer, Stephen P. (2015). Rural Communities: Legacy + Change (5 ed.). Westview Press.

Paddison, Ronan (2001). “Studying Cities”. In Paddison, Ronan. Handbook of Urban Studies. London; Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications. pp. 177–193.

Ray., Hutchison,; 1960-, Haynes, Bruce D., (2012). The ghetto : contemporary global issues and controversies. Westview Press. ISBN 9780813345031. OCLC 701015428.

2 comments on “What are the “Urban Sciences”?

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