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Advancing the Science of Infrastructure Ecology by Exploring and Explaining Universal Regularities of Urban Sustainability Indicators


The term infrastructure ecology was coined by the PI as a metaphor to describe the complex interdependence between infrastructure, environmental, economic and social components in urban areas. At the macro level, cities appear to manifest remarkable metabolic scalar similarities with ecological and biological systems. For example, approximately an 85% increase in infrastructure, such as road surface, number of gas stations or length of water pipes, is required to accommodate a doubling of population for a city. This implies a systematic 15% savings across cities of different population sizes, while similar savings of 20% are found in ecological and biological systems. Although it intuitively makes sense that these systems level regularities emerge from the collective behavior of cities’ individual components and their interactions, the specific contribution of each component and mechanisms governing their interactions remain largely unknown. Answering these questions is fundamental to provide meaningful decision support for urban sustainability, because policies targeted toward specific urban segments (e.g., infrastructure or communities) can be more readily implemented than general policies targeted the city level (e.g., carbon emissions reduction goals proposed by numerous cities). We propose to bridge this knowledge gap by investigating how interactions between infrastructure ecology components lead to the emergence of systems level phenomena relevant to urban sustainability at multiple spatial scales. This research will help transform infrastructure ecology from an intriguing conceptual framework to a new field of study.

University of Michigan - School of Natural Resources & Environment
Research Areas
Urban Systems and Built Environment