Springer Urban Studies Programme: Research to Make the World’s Urban Areas More Sustainable

By: Laura Graham-Clare, Mon Sep 17 2018
Laura Graham-Clare

Author: Laura Graham-Clare

Springer’s Urban Studies Programme: Evidence-based research to make the world’s urban areas more sustainable

With global urban populations continuing to grow (UN DESA, 2018), many of the challenges associated with sustainability and human well-being will play out across the world’s towns and cities. 90% of future population growth is expected to take place across Africa and Asia, where there is already rapid expansion of settlements and informal urbanisation. Accelerated urbanisation not only impacts the health, social cohesion and prosperity of populations - through environmental decline, housing shortages and employment problems - its effects can be felt more broadly in the form of natural disasters, including climate change.

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities, one of the most ambitious of seventeen goals, states:

“By 2020, substantially increase the number of cities and human settlements adopting and implementing integrated policies and plans towards inclusion, resource efficiency, mitigation and adaptation to climate change, resilience to disasters, and develop and implement, in line with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, holistic disaster risk management at all levels.” (Un.org, 2018)


Yet much of the evidence tells us that large parts of the planet are already falling behind major milestones on the way to achieving these targets (Sustainable Development Solutions Network, Report 2018). At the Paris Climate Summit, scientists have warned that the environment is degrading in unprecedented rates and if we don’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions quickly enough, the consequences could be catastrophic.

Data from the Sustainable Development Solutions Network suggests shortfalls against the UN’s SDG 11 are biggest in East and South Asia. Creating sustainable urban environments isn’t just a challenge for western nations, it’s becoming an ever-pressing issue in the Global South. There are over 1.25bn people in Africa today and that figure is expected to reach 2.5bn by 2050 (World Population Prospects The 2017 Revision, 2017).  But there’s potential for many younger towns and cities of the Global South to become more resource-efficient and low carbon-emitting faster because the systems that support lower-impact urban environments can be put in place earlier.

Increasing collective responsibility


Although more of the world’s attention is now focused on sustainable urbanisation, and it is no longer the restricted domain of academics policymakers and practitioners, meaningful solutions to this global challenge have been slow. This is partly because efforts such as managing global emissions, depend on widespread, collective and co-ordinated commitments to reducing consumption and pollution. Governments and businesses can be resistant to committing because of cost, political uncertainty or inertia. There’s also a real need for specialists across government, business, civil society and academia to join forces and build momentum behind specific, measurable goals that will directly impact urban environments and their populations.

NGOs, philanthropic institutions, and civil society organisations play an equally pivotal role in improving urban environments. And as collective responsibility for sustainability starts to grow (outside of national governments), we’re seeing more cities, towns and local neighbourhoods taking direct action to shape their local environment. Sector representation at the last World Cities Summit (WCS) comprised of 55% government representatives, 33% businesses, 8% IO and NGO, and 4% other (Worldcitiessummit.com.sg, 2018) – which also underlines the growing level of collaborative action in this area.

An interdisciplinary approach to the biggest urban challenges


WCS 2016 identified the top five challenges faced by cities as: transportation planning and development; economic development and job creation; financing infrastructure projects; housing supply and affordability; and ageing population. It also established the following as major priorities:

•    Build up public infrastructure & improve public services
•    Roll out Smart City deployments / technology applications
•    Ensure environmentally sustainable developments in my city
•    Promote social cohesion and integration of my citizens
•    Spearhead climate resilient efforts / projects

The emerging, cross-industry approach to achieving goals like these is now well supported by increased interdisciplinary research in the field of urban studies. Post-graduate and post-doctoral research in urban studies and urban geography is growing in profile at prominent institutions such as UCL, MIT, Berkeley, Delft University of Technology, University of Hong Kong, UCLAPolitecnico di Milano, Tsinghua University, University of Cape Town, National University of Singapore, Tsinghua University, University of Tokyo, among others. Meanwhile, published research, analysis and commentary in the field is also increasing - not only to address new and ever more complex challenges associated with urbanisation - but also to inform and support the broader range of professionals taking on these challenges.

Springer’s Urban Studies Collection


Within Springer’s Earth Sciences, Geography, & Environment Department, is a dedicated Urban Studies & Urban Geography programme whose mission is to be at the forefront of research that both informs and helps to sustain the global community. The programme’s goal is to advance urban planning, development and design, urban health, urban energy and smart urban technologies. Publishing Editor, Juliana Pitanguy, is responsible for developing the urban studies portfolio as well as expanding its regional focus in areas including Latin America.

Publications in Springer’s Urban Studies collection include high impact books, monographs, edited volumes, book series, reference works and journals (including Open Access titles such as City, Territory and Architecture). Each of these titles directly intersects with the first pillar of Springer Nature’s Grand Challenges programme: Sustainable Cities, and with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities. The collection’s flagship series - The Urban Book Series - has grown to 35 published works in two years and is complemented by other popular series, including Cities and Nature which focuses on green spaces and urban technology.

Recent book highlights demonstrating the growing demand for peer-reviewed, scientific solutions to increasingly pressing issues associated with urbanisation, include: Climate Change in Cities, Urban Disaster Resilience and Security, Low-Carbon Smart Cities, and The Urban Garden City. Research into urban governance is also an area of growing demand, as is regionally focused urban development relating to the Global South. Pitanguy is also responsible for the Latin American program which has recently seen the launch of two new book series:  The Latin American Studies book Series and SpringerBriefs in Latin American Studies

Springer’s Urban Studies and Geography program works closely with organisations such as the Urban Affairs Association, ‘dedicated to creating interdisciplinary spaces for engaging in intellectual and practical discussions about urban life’; the European Urban Research Association, and the International Society of City and Regional Planners, whose objectives include ‘the improvement of planning practice through the creation of a global and active network of practitioners’. 

Organisations like these, along with international events such as the World Cities Summit are catalysts for bringing academics, business leaders and government representatives together to tackle issues as broad as the re-distribution of housing demand in industrialized countries, engineering cooler cities and towns, and improving knowledge of urban spaces. Publishers play an active role at this type of forum, providing peer-reviewed research as a platform for objective-setting and planning, but also responding to the need for additional research to help tackle new and emerging challenges. Springer’s Urban Studies and Geography editorial team was actively involved in the World Cities Summit in Singapore July this year, which had over 24,000 attendees, including government and business leaders, focused on making cities more liveable and sustainable. The team also set much of the agenda for Springer Nature's Science and the Sustainable City Summit which was co-located with the WCS this year.

New and emerging urban research will be reflected in Springer’s growing Urban Studies collection which will see 30 new titles publishing in 2018.  Much of this research, aimed at informing future international urban planning and developing effective solutions, will reflect themes explored and debated at July’s Science and the Sustainable City Summit, including:

•    designing cities to promote good health, wellbeing and productivity amongst inhabitants;
•    tackling practical challenges from waste and water systems to transportation needs;
•    delivering science-based solutions to challenges such as air pollution and cooling hot cities;
•    other interdisciplinary projects such as adapting housing design to reduce impact on climate change.

For more information, please contact Juliana Pitanguy: Juliana.Pitanguy@springer.com.



Worldcitiessummit.com.sg. (2018). Home Page | World Cities Summit. [online] Available at: http://www.worldcitiessummit.com.sg/ [Accessed 18 Jun. 2018].

World Population Prospects The 2017 Revision. (2017). united nations, p.https://esa.un.org/unpd/wpp/Publications/Files/WPP2017_KeyFindings.pdf.

UNDP. (2018). Goal 11: Sustainable cities and communities. [online] Available at: http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/sustainable-development-goals/goal-11-sustainable-cities-and-communities.html [Accessed 19 Jun. 2018].

Un.org. (2018). #Envision2030 Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities | United Nations Enable. [online] Available at: https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities/envision2030-goal11.html [Accessed 20 Jun. 2018].

Laura Graham-Clare

Author: Laura Graham-Clare

Laura Graham-Clare is Head of Community Content, based in London. Working between our publishing, sales and marketing teams, she is focused on thought leadership trends, content creation, and developing insights and information resources for staff, librarians, researchers and information professionals.

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