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IBS Speaker Series: How Does the Urban Past Matter for Urban Sustainability Science?

April 26, 2021 @ 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm

Zoom link: https://cuboulder.zoom.us/j/98382278178 – email ibs-contact@colorado.edu for password.

José Lobo

Abstract: It is a truism in the social sciences that “the past matters.” Yet the urban past is often missing in the argumentations for urban sustainability science. (As an example: a historical perspective on urbanization, or insights from urban archaeology, are absent in the 2018 NSF report calling for the development of a new science of sustainable urban systems.) We propose that urban sustainability science can be strengthened by expanding the analytical gaze from the modern notion of cities to all human settlements. Analogies made between past and current circumstances tend to be richly metaphorical but analytically poor. When asking how the past matters for urban sustainability science, two key questions must be addressed. First, are there sufficient similarities (processes, mechanisms, decisions, feedback loops) to allow the past and present to be compared in a rigorous fashion? Second, can relevant data from the past be generated and assembled which can relate to analyses of contemporary urbanization? The phenomenon of settlement persistence provides a very relevant entry point for discussing how understanding spatially embedded human sociality in the past can inform our understanding of urbanization today and what are feasible paths for achieving sustainable urban development. In the most basic terms, settlement persistence represents a measure of the length of continuous use of a well-defined area or place of human occupation. Remarkably little is known about the nature of settlement persistence or its variability in early times. How long did settlements last within particular regions? What facilitated adaptation and resilience? What caused fragility and brought about collapse? The presentation will use a recently proposed research agenda on settlement persistence in the past as a way of engaging seminar participants in a discussion of how does the urban past matter for the development of urban sustainability science?

Bio: José Lobo is a Clinical Associate Professor in the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University. Dr. Lobo was trained in physics, applied mathematics, and urban economics (and hopes to earn an honorary degree in archaeology through his collaborations with archaeologists). His research interests include urbanization across time and geographies, the role of settlements and cities in socioeconomic development, and theories of invention.


April 26, 2021
12:00 pm - 1:00 pm


Center for Collaborative Synthesis in Archaeology