The 20th century experienced unprecedented rates of urbanization and led to a proliferation of new types and structures of urban settlements across the globe that we are only beginning to understand from an ecological and social perspective. Modern cities are a complex assemblage of natural, built, and social sub-systems that have been poorly measured and monitored relative to other ecosystems and land cover types. While social and natural scientists have developed methods and theories for studying individual components of urban systems such as ecological processes, physical climate, governance, social justice, engineered systems, and many other disciplinary aspects of urban processes, a new class of research that approaches cities from a systems-level perspective is also emerging. Building on NSF's early investments in interdisciplinary environmental research such as Biocomplexity in the Environment, a new generation of urban systems research questions and methods considers cities as complex adaptive systems with non-linear dynamics, emergent behavior, and critical components that cannot be easily disaggregated into conventional classifications of social vs. biophysical sub-systems.
It is currently difficult to support cutting-edge research on urban systems and their sustainability through conventional disciplinary programs. This talk explores pathways for new urban ecological research and the role of long-term study sites in filling critical knowledge gaps in urban system science.