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Suggested Citation:"9 Workshop Themes and the Path Forward." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Enhancing Urban Sustainability Infrastructure: Mathematical Approaches for Optimizing Investments: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26905.
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9

Workshop Themes and the Path Forward

Jared L. Cohon, Carnegie Mellon University, and Jeanne Holm, City of Los Angeles, summarized key concepts that emerged during workshop presentations and discussions, highlighted overarching themes, and reflected on the path toward a more sustainable future.

9.1 WORKSHOP THEMES

9.1.1 Modeling and Uncertainty

Cohon described the crucial role that optimization—and modeling more generally—plays in creating an integrated systems view for infrastructure planning, design, and operations. Several speakers underscored the connection between uncertainty and infrastructure planning. The distinction between deep uncertainty and the uncertainty for which probability distributions can be estimated was also highlighted; even in the latter case, predictions are often unreliable. Many speakers suggested that optimization should not be characterized as prescribing a solution or providing an “optimal” approach—in other words, instead of being used “for” problem solving, optimization could be used “in” problem solving. Several speakers indicated that optimization could be used to provide a range of solutions that incorporate many possible futures and their associated risk and reward trade-offs to stakeholders for decision making.

Cohon asserted that infrastructure problems are complicated owing not only to uncertain futures but also to the presence of multiple,

Suggested Citation:"9 Workshop Themes and the Path Forward." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Enhancing Urban Sustainability Infrastructure: Mathematical Approaches for Optimizing Investments: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26905.
×

conflicting criteria and perspectives. Several speakers pointed out that identifying these criteria is a crucial step that often receives too little time and attention. These criteria are problem- and situation-specific, but some general categories that emerged during the workshop discussions include net economic efficiency benefits, equity, well-being, resilience, environmental quality, jobs, and energy security. A few speakers emphasized that each criterion might have multiple metrics, and metrics have to be carefully chosen. Issues and challenges could arise in identifying and measuring these metrics, as metrics are application-specific and require the appropriate level of detail. Other challenges related to metrics that surfaced during the workshop discussions include lack of consensus, data availability and quality, and unintended consequences.

9.1.2 Data

As Cohon explained, many speakers underscored that high-quality, timely data are essential for infrastructure investment and sustainability planning. Multiple data categories and multiple data sources exist—and integrating them for use in modeling is a challenge. Several speakers highlighted barriers to sharing, leveraging, and integrating data such as legal constraints, a lack of cooperation and inconsistencies across jurisdictions, concerns about data quality and accuracy, and the issue of having either too many or too few data.

9.1.3 Capacity Building

Another overarching theme that emerged during the workshop discussions, Cohon continued, is that effective planning and design requires increased technical capacity in cities. Each city has unique issues such as a lack of understanding, a lack of data, or a lack of leadership. Several speakers discussed strategies for broader adoption of optimization methods, including making models more accessible, creating forums for building local capacity, increasing awareness, and meaningfully engaging communities.

Many workshop speakers elaborated on the need to improve community engagement and enhance consideration for community values. A “community” comprises multiple stakeholders with diverse ideals and perspectives. To build capacity at the community level, several speakers suggested strategies to build trust and confidence by increasing transparency, fostering relationships, raising community awareness of models, engaging with and using data, emphasizing participatory data, understanding who owns the narrative, and validating data to ensure that they represent lived experiences. All of this should culminate in a decision,

Suggested Citation:"9 Workshop Themes and the Path Forward." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Enhancing Urban Sustainability Infrastructure: Mathematical Approaches for Optimizing Investments: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26905.
×

Cohon remarked, for which the right people are in the room to prevent “group think.”

9.1.4 Climate and Equity

Holm shared a video from New York City Mayor Eric Adams, which magnified many of the workshop discussions about the urgent need to confront climate and equity issues in cities. Mayor Adams explained that climate change is happening now, as record heat waves occur from New York City to London. In addition to increasing temperatures, storms are stronger, and floods and fires are becoming more dangerous. He urged preparation and described New York City’s commitment to adapting to become more sustainable for the future. For example, the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project works to reduce flood risks, and more projects are in the pipeline.

Mayor Adams underscored that people of color and low-income communities are experiencing a disproportionate share of pollution and environmental degradation even though they contribute the least to emissions. He stressed that because climate justice is social justice, the city is conducting a comprehensive study of environmental justice and has created a new office for climate and environmental justice.

New York City is also making other investments for a more sustainable city, with plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reach carbon neutrality by 2050, improve access to renewable energy, procure plant-based local food options, and ensure that New Yorkers have access to sustainable food to support healthy lives and a healthy planet. Mayor Adams noted that because buildings produce more emissions than any other source in New York City, investments have been made to convert buildings to renewable energy sources and electric systems to become more efficient. Additional research and climate solutions are being tested in a new academic center on Governors Island, and Mayor Adams indicated that all of this work is occurring while sustainable economic growth is being created via a green economy with thousands of well-paying jobs. He emphasized that the future of the planet depends on everyone; all can make a difference to fight climate change and build a better tomorrow for future generations.

9.2 THE PATH FORWARD

Holm remarked that cities’ long-term sustainability plans should not only provide necessities such as food, water, and safety but also enhance happiness and protect climate. She reiterated that the way cities govern often creates the problems they wish to solve, and she encouraged city leaders to consider carefully the location and design of freeways, bridges,

Suggested Citation:"9 Workshop Themes and the Path Forward." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Enhancing Urban Sustainability Infrastructure: Mathematical Approaches for Optimizing Investments: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26905.
×

skyscrapers, and affordable housing, as these decisions are often made with outdated data and limited city budgets, without listening to those who will be affected, and amid political turnover. Although significant progress is being made, she urged cities to leverage the right data to make better decisions for the future that improve both safety and equity.

Holm summarized, saying that specific tools and methodologies help cities determine how to best invest in infrastructure for community benefit, while managing competing priorities. She reiterated that infrastructure includes not only physical buildings but also digital and public safety systems and services as well as housing, shelters, and education hubs. Using data appropriately could help cities to determine where to place this infrastructure to increase community access. She noted further that more open data and decision transparency would be beneficial, with requirements for cities to validate data, to analyze without implicit bias, and to be held accountable for their decisions.

Holm emphasized the value of a collaborative and interactive approach between academic and government partners, and stressed that public–private partnerships could reduce some of the burden on cities to fund projects. Changing how grants are solicited and evaluated to better consider issues of sustainability and equity would also be beneficial. She provided an example of equitable decision making in Los Angeles with the replacement of the 6th Street Bridge, which is attractive and safe and connects a low-income neighborhood to jobs downtown. The construction project itself was also equitable, with the highest number of women working on a municipal project in the nation’s history.

Holm asserted that a concerted effort is needed to rebuild the trust in large institutions and government that has eroded over time. This problem is complicated by the short-term needs of residents and long-term needs for resilience and safety, as well as by the biased data and decisions that have negatively affected low-income communities and people of color. She cautioned that even with the best tools, intentions, and investments, projects could fail if cities do not involve and represent the community in infrastructure design.

David Banks, Duke University, inquired as to whether the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine could provide an assessment of the services that city managers use to help prioritize and manage their budgets. Samuel Labi, Purdue University, proposed continuing the conversations begun at this workshop because the problems that cities face will persist for some time. He noted that the speakers provided innovative solutions, and a permanent series of events like this one every other year would be beneficial.

Suggested Citation:"9 Workshop Themes and the Path Forward." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Enhancing Urban Sustainability Infrastructure: Mathematical Approaches for Optimizing Investments: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26905.
×
Page 85
Suggested Citation:"9 Workshop Themes and the Path Forward." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Enhancing Urban Sustainability Infrastructure: Mathematical Approaches for Optimizing Investments: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26905.
×
Page 86
Suggested Citation:"9 Workshop Themes and the Path Forward." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Enhancing Urban Sustainability Infrastructure: Mathematical Approaches for Optimizing Investments: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26905.
×
Page 87
Suggested Citation:"9 Workshop Themes and the Path Forward." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Enhancing Urban Sustainability Infrastructure: Mathematical Approaches for Optimizing Investments: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26905.
×
Page 88
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The National Academies Board on Mathematical Sciences and Analytics and Board on Infrastructure and the Constructed Environment convened a 3-day public workshop on July 13, 20, and 27, 2022, to explore state-of-the-art analytical tools that could advance urban sustainability through improved prioritization of public works projects. Invited speakers included people working in urban sustainability, city planning, local public and private infrastructure, asset management, and infrastructure investment; city officials and utility officials; and statisticians, data scientists, mathematicians, economists, computer scientists, and artificial intelligence/machine learning experts. Presentations and workshop discussions provided insights into new research areas that have the potential to advance urban sustainability in public works planning, as well as the barriers to their adoption. This publication summarizes the presentation and discussion of the workshop.

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