Engineering Management & Systems Engineering;
School of Engineering & Applied Science

GW Undertakes New Initiative in Urban Sustainability Research


E&EM Lead Professor Jonathan Deason served on a University-wide Sustainability Research Task Force in late 2009 and early 2010. The Task Force, composed of a multidisciplinary faculty committee drawn from seven GW schools, prepared a strategic plan to launch a GW Sustainability Research Initiative. The objective of the Initiative is to advance the quality and quantity of sustainability-related research, policy and management at GW by organizing cutting-edge research and integrating applied areas of urban sustainability research.

The goal of the Sustainability Research Initiative is to help GW achieve national and international prominence in the area of urban sustainability within five years.  GW’s existing interdisciplinary expertise in the areas of water, climate and energy as they relate to urban sustainability will provide a solid foundation for the effort.   Because of GW’s location in the Nation’s Capital, along with additional strengths in public policy and governmental affairs, the initiative is intended also to offer important policy and management recommendations for policymakers, the media, and the public concerning sustainability research and policy issues.

The importance of urban sustainability is indicated by facts such as the following:

  • More than 50% of the world’s population lives in urban areas, a percentage that is increasing rapidly.
  • Cities are of unprecedented size.  There are now more than 20 “megacities” in the world, defined as cities having more than 10 million residents.
  • Cities account for 2% of the land surface of the world, but their residents consume 75% of the world’s resources.

The Task Force noted that a focus on urban sustainability can advance several areas pertinent to wider fields of inquiry.  Air pollution, for example, is known to reach unhealthy levels in most major cities because of the high concentration of vehicles.  Storm water contaminates City Rivers and bays with contaminants such as fertilizer, road treatments, pesticides, trash and even car exhaust from rain washout.  Air and water pollution negatively impact the health of people who live and work in urban environments.  Also more global environmental impacts such as acid rain and climate change would be mitigated from reduced urban air pollution. 

Because cities are places on interconnected physical and social processes, some sustainability scholars now argue that urban sustainability will provide the forum, the foundation, and the solutions leading to global sustainability.  The focus on urban sustainability will address both small and large scale issues, including protection and restoration of the remaining biological phenomena and process within the urban community as well as the impact of cities upon the larger terrestrial, aquatic, and atmospheric resource of the biosphere.  This includes issues of transportation, food, disease, energy, air, and water pollution, and nutrient recycling.