Symposium adds momentum to livable cities initiative

May 6, 2015

Inspired, excited and scared are some of the ways Peter Marcotullio feels when he looks at where populations are expected to boom in the coming decades.

Asia is little more than half the story, he says. Africa is going to be huge. The U.S. population will grow by more 140 million by the end of this century. “We need to develop urbanization scenarios,” Marcotullio says. “What are cities going to be like?”

Marcotullio, director of the Institute for Sustainable Cities at City University of New York, joins University of Wisconsin-Madison and international colleagues for the Livable Cities Symposium Tuesday, May 12, in the Pyle Center. They will explore what’s already happening at UW-Madison and how universities can connect research to city problems.

Peter Marcotullio
Peter Marcotullio presents a
Livable Cities Seminar May 11.

Marcotullio also delivers a public lecture about his work at 5:30 p.m. Monday, May 11, in the DeLuca Forum at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery.

“We should be providing information, knowledge and data for cities that will help stakeholders make decisions,” Marcotullio says. “Not just people in ivory towers doing what’s interesting and maybe cutting edge, but also doing what’s important to people on the ground.”

More than 70 UW-Madison faculty and staff members and graduate students will gather for the symposium that recognizes cities in Wisconsin and around the world face new and pressing challenges. Aging infrastructures, growing populations, shifting demographics and a changing climate will impact how we live and how healthy our lives will be.

“Getting help is critical,” says Satya Rhodes-Conway, senior associate with UW-Madison’s COWS and former Madison, Wis., city council member. “Getting help from academia, which is not trying to sell you something … could result in a trusted partner to work with on these sticky problems and find innovative ways of dealing with them.” COWS is a think-and-do tank on “high road” development and a co-sponsor of the event.

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin joins the symposium participants to discuss why cities would want to work with universities, and Wim Wiewel, president of Portland State University, will consider why universities work with cities.

Two dozen researchers from across UW-Madison will present their work with cities in a series of three-minute flash talks. The program also includes presentations from Jonathan Patz, director of the Global Health Institute (GHI) and a professor in the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, and Engineering Professor Jamie Schauer, who are meeting with the World Health Organization in Geneva to discuss urban health. GHI and the Nelson Institute are also co-sponsors of the event.

View a special issue of
the Nelson Institute's
In Common magazine
themed around creating
more livable cities.

UW researchers from fields as diverse as engineering and human ecology, education and real estate, computer sciences and environment will present their work. Their projects explore energy, public health, transportation, smart growth, transportation, air quality and more. Many are working with partners from Madison.

“There’s an enormous amount of talent on campus in urban sustainability,” says Paul Robbins, director of the Nelson Institute. “But no one knew each other.” The Livable Cities Initiative was launched in 2014 to find ways to connect researchers and communities to reimagine sustainable cities for the future.

While showcasing how UW-Madison faculty, staff and students are already working with communities, the symposium will connect researchers to each other, which could spark new collaborations and projects.

The symposium also will introduce several successful models of university/community partnership from across the country. “We will see if any of them fit for UW-Madison,” Robbins says. “Can we borrow an already successful model? Or do we need to start from scratch?”

“I hope we identify people interested in doing this, and that they want to go forward,” says COWS Director Joel Rogers.

The CUNY Institute for Sustainable Cities, for example, still operates under its original mandate to work with communities with a focus on environmental issues, Marcotullio says. Connecting research and city needs fits his basic understanding that science emerged to make life better for people. “It’s very simply how I see it,” he says. “What we do, whether it’s the biophysical sciences or the social sciences, it has to benefit larger society.”

“One of the important facets
of Livable Cities is that people
around Wisconsin understand
it," Robbins says. "They
understand that this sort of
initiative is the university
doing something to improve
their lives.”

Kathy Cramer, director of the Morgridge Center for Public Service; Eduardo Santana-Castellon, professor at the University of Guadalajara; Mike Greco, program manager for the University of Minnesota Resilient Communities Project; Peter Marcotullio, director of the CUNY Institute for Sustainable Cities; and Jason Vargo, GHI/Nelson Institute assistant scientist, close the symposium with a panel discussion about various ways for the university to coordinate its work with cities.

“One of the important facets of Livable Cities is that people around Wisconsin understand it,” Robbins says. “They understand that this sort of initiative is the university doing something to improve their lives, and that’s important.”

For Vargo, who helped organize the symposium, the project is also personal as he considers the world his children will inherit. “What does it mean that more people are moving into cities? What is the environmental impact of people living in urban and suburban settings? What am I doing to create a better place for my children?

“Connecting university and city is a natural step. The Livable Cities Initiative can make that happen.”

Public forums to learn more: