Center for Environmental Science Applications (CESA)

Finding solutions to sustainability challenges by linking ideas, people and resources


Comparative Urban Genetics:

Towards a Common Methodology for

Pragmatic Analysis of Cities


May 21-23

University College London


Cities are where most people live and work; most innovation takes place; most pollution and wealth are generated; and most vulnerability to climate change occurs. Finding an equitable way to bring urban consumption into better balance with available resources would greatly help society meet global sustainability goals.

 Today’s cities are laboratories and their leaders are researchers in the new science of urban sustainability. But in contrast to traditional lab sciences like physics or biology, the results of urban experiments are generally not compiled, published or compared. City managers, politicians, and residents tend to see their problems as unique; sharing of lessons learned among cities has been relatively rare. 

To help fill this gap, we plan to bring together a select group of representatives of city and regional governments, businesses that deal in urban services and design, NGOs that work on urban issues in developing and developed countries, and academic researchers that take a comprehensive view of urban systems. This group will begin to create a methodology for The Comparative Genetics of Cities, an approach that assumes that if we could fully delineate all shared urban traits, we would discover patterns and pathways toward curing urban ills that currently remain hidden.

The workshop will look at new ways to collect complex city data streams, feed that information into models that help envision the future, and translate those visions into improved urban policies. By examining the experience of two contrasting cities— London and Phoenix—we will begin to explore the opportunities and challenges associated with The Comparative Genetics of Cities. Building on a recently-published Tyndall Centre report on the vulnerability of Greater London to climate change, and the U.S. National Science Foundation’s “Decision Center for a Desert City” project about water management in cities, we will evaluate different ways to present comparative urban datasets, with a particular emphasis on the heat island effect, water supply, and transport.
Our workshop will address these key questions:
  1. How can urban decision-making be transformed by new datasets and analysis tools?
  2. Can cataloguing and classifying urban traits help city leaders learn from each other?
  3. Which tools are most appropriate and useful for which stages of urban development?
  4. How can we build multi-sector (corporate, gov’t, NGO, academic) urban partnership?

Workshop Downloads

Download Phoenix and London Comparison Datasets - Will install and launch GIS program JEarth (works on any operating system but requires Java 6 to be installed):

View videos of datasets in JEarth:

Urban Heat Island and Vegetation in Phoenix and London:

Urban Agriculture and Socioeconomics in Phoenix: