A seminar led by Luís M. A. Bettencourt from the University of Chicago on trends in global urbanization. Global urbanization is arguably the greatest force shaping the world today, delivering at once unprecedented human development, economic growth and severe challenges of sustainability for human energy and resource use. Even though cities have historically been the settings where most hallmarks of civilization were developed - politics, justice, economic markets, public health, infrastructure – they have been treated in urban planning and policy as a massive engineering problem, to be shaped at will from the top-down. This approach has often run counter to the natural dynamics of cities as places of human interaction and opportunity and created many negative unintended consequences, especially for disadvantaged populations. This seminar discusses how this perspective has now been completely upended, and how evidence from cities from around the world and new approaches to integrated theory and modeling are revealing new knowledge of the fundamental processes that shape and sustain cities. It also describes a number of areas of near future development, associated with the need to understand and accelerate development across scales – from individuals to cities and nations. In this context, Bettencourt highlights, the type of data and partnerships necessary to generate a rigorous and systematic people-centric approach to urban sustainable development, and a range of the present initiatives at the Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation, which may provide points of collaboration.

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Speaker: Luis Bettencourt

Luís M. A. Bettencourt is the Pritzker Director of the Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation at the University of Chicago. He is also a Professor of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago and External Professor of Complex Systems at the Santa Fe Institute.

He was trained as a theoretical physicist and obtained his Licenciatura from Instituto Superior Técnico (Lisbon, Portugal) in 1992, and his PhD from Imperial College (University of London, UK) in 1996 for research in statistical and high-energy physics models of the early Universe.

He has held postdoctoral positions at the University of Heidelberg (Germany), Los Alamos National Laboratory (Director’s Fellow and Slansky Fellow) and at MIT (Center for Theoretical Physics). He has worked extensively on complex systems theory and on cities and urbanization, in particular. His research emphasizes the creation of new interdisciplinary synthesis to describe cities in quantitative and predictive ways, informed by classical theory from various disciplines and the growing availability of empirical data worldwide.

He is the author of over 100 scientific papers and several edited books. His research has been featured in leading media venues, such as the New York Times, Nature, Wired, New Scientist, and the Smithsonian.