5 Questions With Our Editorial Board

Get to know our Editor-in-Chief and Associate Editors as they each answer 5 questions about their research and experience and share their thoughts about becoming involved with the journal.

Thomas Elmqvist, PhD

Thomas Elmqvist is a Professor of Natural Resource Management at Stockholm University in Sweden.

What is your research background?

I have a background in ecology, for the last 15 years in complex systems analysis.

What is your current research focused on?

Developing empirical and theoretical tools for understanding urbanization and its consequences on local, regional and global scales, analyzing long-distance interactions and what institutional and policy arrangements may be needed for cities becoming effective in creating incentives for sustainable landscape management.

Why did you decide to become involved with npj Urban Sustainability?

I saw there was a great need for a high-quality journal in the field of research on urban sustainability. The fact that it is open access, has research from the Global South as a priority and linked to the SDG 11 were all factors that convinced me this was well worth investing time and energy in.

What are you most looking forward to in your role as Editor-in-Chief?

To be part of supporting the emergence of new theory on urbanization, and in particular pushing for that excellent research coming from urban regions in the Global South will be published in a way that it reaches a very wide audience.

Why should researchers submit their work to npj Urban Sustainability?

The open access aspect will make sure that papers are widely distributed, not only to the academic community but also to urban planners and policy makers. We will strive to maintain a high level of quality in the papers published and will give priority to papers with innovative approaches, hopefully fostering a very vibrant discussion among a diverse community of readers.

 

Michele Acuto, PhD

Michele Acuto is Professor and Director of the Connected Cities Lab at University of Melbourne in Australia, as well as a senior fellow of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and lead cities expert for the Botnar Foundation.

What is your research background?

I was trained in politics and international law, espectially as they apply to questions of international relations, security challenges and global governance, where I also worked outside academia. It was work in the areas of pandemic response and international development that drew me to cities: appreciating the inherent global connectivity between urban centers across continents, and the massive societal impact of urbanization, are key elements determining the shape of world politics today. Work with the European Commission and the World Bank, as well as collaborations with WHO and UN-Habitat, helped shape my view that urban challenges should be approached in a more 'cosmopolitan' way: urbanization is a shared condition for, and of direct impact to, much of humanity today. From that point of view I specialized in urban studies and geography, tackling questions surrounding the international role of city leadership, especially around the role of 'global cities' and 'city networks,' as well as the place of urban data in urban governance, and the dynamics of urban development. I have been engaged in programs around these themes at the University of Oxford, University College London (where I held a chair in urban theory) and now University of Melbourne (where I am professor of urban politics).

What is your current research focused on?

I currently lead the Connected Cities Lab at the University of Melbourne. Launched in January 2019, the lab seeks to tackle the more-than-local issues which underpin urban governance in an increasingly urbanized world, focusing on the international dimension of cities and city leadership. The main spirit of the Connected Cities Lab is to broaden the mindset of people that work in or on cities and expose them to a more globally oriented approach to thinking about urban issues and solutions, without discounting the importance of local concerns, community movements, and situated experiences. For example, our "Knowledge in Action for Urban Equality" (KNOW) program, sponsored by the UK Department for International Development and in partnership with University College London, is working with urban experts and local government in Cuba, Sierra Leone, Peru and Southeast Asia to think of the ways research-practice connections can contribute to more equal cities. Some of my current research programs are engaged with better understanding the 'ecosystem' of global urban governance and the role of formalised city networks in tackling international challenges, the status of cities within the UN system, or the role and impact of city rankings in urban governance. In the Lab we work on applied urban research that is carried out explicitly in a collaborative fashion with key international stakeholders in urban governance, as for instance with UN-Habitat, the Fondation Botnar or the Global Convenant of Mayors.

Why did you decide to become involved with npj Urban Sustainability?

I believe it is imperative for urban researchers today to have easily accessible venues to engage in interdisciplinary conversations. As we demonstrated in the recent Nature Sustainability international expert panel on "Science and the Future of Cities," which I chaired along with Karen Seto at Yale University and Susan Parnell at the University of Bristol and gathering 29 of the world's best minds on urban research in many disciplines, it is fundamental for urban scholars today to look at innovative ways urban research can shape how we tackle pressing challenges for cities well beyond individual disciplinary boundaries. The expert panel has advocated the development of a more 'global' urban scientific practice (natural and social), and the promotion of better scientific advice for cities and city leaders. I believe npj Urban Sustainability could do just that in a timely fashion.

What are you most looking forward to in your role as Associate Editor?

I look forward to discovering new experimental ways to tackle urban challenges from different points of views, and seeing those expand into conversations across different academic traditions. I also very much look forward to encouraging greater appreciation and recognition for some of the terrific work that is happening in the so-called "Global South" which is often overshadowed by Northern voices and institutions when it comes to speaking of urban challenges.

Why should researchers submit their work to npj Urban Sustainability?

Urban researchers should think of npj Urban Sustainability as the home for timely but also experimental conversations that pertain to the sustainable development of cities, free from often stringent canons of specific disciplines. We are looking for excellent scholarly 'science,' natural, social or even humanities that it might be, and provocative work that pushes the boundaries of what urban research is and does today – fit for a 21st century of problems that cross boundaries, call for bottom-up solutions, and push for tough conversations.

 

Pippin Anderson, PhD

Pippin Anderson is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Environmental and Geographical Science at the University of Cape Town, South Africa.

What is your research background?

My primary training was in botany. I started off doing a degree in English and History but got a job in my first year as part of a large-scale project that was mapping Proteas across South Africa. Through this project I fell in love with the flora of the Cape and quickly abandoned my Humanities degree for one in Science, majoring in botany and ecology. I have always been interested in landscapes and ecologies informed by human influence, and their sustainability. In my MSc I added a conservation biology angle, and my PhD was in the landscape ecology of rangelands. My current research really brings all these elements together where my focus is still mostly on the sustainability of plant communities, but working in a city means the people-element is ever present, as is the need for a conservation view.

What is your current research focused on?

My current research is focused on urban ecology. I am intrigued by the response of landscapes and plant communities to the novel pressures exerted by cities. Cities are such beasts – complex and varied, and full of people acting independently and in unison – it makes them fun and difficult places to research. African cities in particular present a novel space to explore sustainability, where the combination of rapid transition, large tracts of indigenous and wild nature, and the developing world context will surely call for unique solutions to achieving urban sustainability.

While for the most part I remain true to my botanical training, I do dip into other ecological dimensions, for example with the inclusion of some invertebrate work. I have also made the odd foray into more social understandings which is inescapable in cities where people drive the ecology, and I have done some environmental history work, and bits on perceptions and access. In the Cape the biodiversity conservation agenda is particularly strong as we sit with phenomenal, and very localized, plant diversity. My work spans the space between indigenous and city floras and how these function, interact, and contribute to the social and conservation agendas of comparative space, working across cities in the broader southern African region. 

I have a secondary, smaller research interest in restoration ecology, with a focus on the Renosterveld vegetation. This is one of the most beleagured vegetation types in the country, and one that used to cover much of the City of Cape Town. The kinds of deep ecological understandings that emerge in the restoration ecology space feed into my broader urban research.

Why did you decide to become involved with npj Urban Sustainability?

It's a great opportunity to be involved in a new, and excellent, journal. It's brilliant that the urban research agenda is getting the kind of recognition that the establishment of npj Urban Sustainability signifies. I also feel that Africa tends to be under-represented in the peer-reviewed literature and I hope to be able to urge local scientists to set their sights on an npj Urban Sustainability contribution.

What are you most looking forward to in your role as Associate Editor?

Journal work exposes you to interesting and often cutting-edge research; you get to engage with reviewers and the review process and then you also get to share ideas and thoughts with your fellow associate editors. These kinds of encounters are truly novel where it's a great collection of people and the catalyst is unknown until it lands on your desk. This makes for unexpected intellectual conversations. I am already enjoying engagements with the team, and envisage lots of debate and discussion – in unanticipated directions – as we dive in. I think the breadth of focus in topic, combined with the tight lens of the challenge of developing sustainable cities, will make for rich discussion.

Why should researchers submit their work to npj Urban Sustainability?

I think to get your research into npj Urban Sustainability is really putting it into the most exciting space in terms of urban sustainability. The breadth of topic, under the tight focus on urban sustainability, combined with the cutting-edge nature of the NPJ 'stable,' makes the journal the very best place for an author to get their research published.

 

Larissa Larsen, PhD

Larissa Larsen is Associate Professor of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Michigan.

What is your research background?

Before completing my PhD in Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I had an applied science undergraduate degree and a Master's degree in landscape architecture from the University of Guelph in Canada. I have engaged in academic research since 1992.

What is your current research focused on?

I have three on-going projects that examine 1) urban heat islands, 2) urban water systems, and 3) low-density development patterns.

Urban Heat Islands: I am completing a four-year study examining how urban heat island and climate change are increasing summer temperatures in Detroit, Atlanta, and Phoenix and how electrical blackouts could have detrimental impacts on residents' health.

Urban Water Systems and Public Health: I am midway through a four-year study on urban water systems and public health in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Low-Density Development in Sub-Saharan African Cities: I am starting a project examining how 1) different land tenure types, 2) land acquisition processes, and 3) federal/central government and private development interests produce low-density development lacking in open space in four African cities—the four Sub-Saharan cities of Luanda (Angola/West Africa), Accra (Ghana/West Africa), Kampala (Uganda/East Africa), and Kigali (Rwanda/East Africa). These cities were selected based on existing spatial data, changes in urban density, and the diversity of urban land tenure types.

Why did you decide to become involved with npj Urban Sustainability?

Urban sustainability has never been more critical, and once patterns of development are established they have lasting social and environmental impacts. Helping with npj Urban Sustainability will expose me to timely research advancements and I will hopefully be able to help authors shape their work to maximize its relevance.

What are you most lookiing forward to in your role as Associate Editor?

Learning lots of new things!

Why should researchers submit their work to npj Urban Sustainability?

As this is a new journal, we're actively seeking papers and promise to facilitate a timely review process.

 

Timon McPhearson, PhD

Timon McPhearson is the Director of the Urban Systems Lab and Associate Professor of Urban Ecology at The New School in New York.

What is your research background?

I am an urban ecologist trained in community and ecosystem ecology with theoretical research in aquatic microcosms and empirical work in urban forests. I have focused on interdisciplinary research in social-ecological systems, resilience theory, and ecosystem services.

What is your current research focused on?

My current research spans a few areas including urban resilience, understanding the environmental justice implications of climate change impacts in cities, multi-hazard risk, and the role of nature-based solutions for climate change adaptation and resilience.

Why did you decide to become involved with npj Urban Sustainability?

I am keen to advance the development of a new, urban systems science that can provide the foundational knowledge for innovative, transdisciplinary understanding of the complexity of cities and how to transform them for sustainability, equity, and resilience. Working with npj Urban Sustainability is a great opportunity to be part of this emerging scientific frontier.

What are you most lookiing forward to in your role as Associate Editor?

I am excited about the opportunity to read and help shape some of the most advanced urban sustainability science. It is exciting to see how many disciplines are converging to better understand the complexity of patterns and processes in cities and human settlements.

Why should researchers submit their work to npj Urban Sustainability?

Achieving Sustainable Development Goal 11 for "making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable" is going to require new knowledge, transdisciplinary approaches, and innovation in research and practice. We want to make npj Urban Sustainability the place where this innovative research exists. I invite researchers to consider this journal as the first place to find and submit novel research that can help achieve the goal of more sustainable cities and thus impact the majority of humanity.

 

Xiaoling Zhang, PhD

Xiaoling Zhang is Associate Professor in the Department of Public Policy at the City University of Hong Kong.

What is your research background?

As urban population keeps expanding in the planet, the space, scale and speed of urbanization become increasingly dynamic and complex. As an academic in sustainability science, I have been seeking the commonalities, particularities, as well as interactions among socioecological and economic systems in shifting towards sustainability. How is the discourse, narratives and constructives of sustainability made meaningful in real-world urban problems?

Under the theoretical umbrella of sustainability science, I have been working on several interdisciplinary research including (1) theoretical critiques, drivers, evolutionary processes and consequences of urbanization; (2) sustainable urban science and land use change, socioecological systems and political economics of regional studies and (3) cities and climate change, urban resource management and economics, energy transformation and policy at the city scale.

What is your current research focused on?

My current research mainly focuses on sustainability science and resource management, and political economics of environmental studies and energy studies. I also work predominantly with macro-level dynamics in sustainable urbanization, regional and neighborhood change, land use change, urban socio-spatial restructuring, informal and formal policy regime, governance and the interactions between them.

Why did you decide to become involved with npj Urban Sustainability?

There was an urgent call for climate change initiatives of shifting from the national level to cities after the COP22 climate conference in 2016, which made urban become the central territory to combat with carbon emissions and climate change. The contemporary landscape of urban sustainability studies has been experiencing a constant transformation and dynamics in the past decades, which calls for a comprehensive and systematic revisit to this field.

I have been working in sustainability science in the past years. It must be recognized that although the global south countries' cities are growing (e.g., Africa and Asia), a lot of complex urban challenges, negative externalities and risks emerge, such as the climate change events, burden of large-scale epidemic urban diseases arising from high-density regions (e.g., the Coronavirus incurred in China), biodiversity loss, social inequality and un-intended consequences from ill-formed urban systems.

However, there still remains a large gap between existing knowledge and the urban science-policy interfaces. In order to convey the full spectrum of inquiry at the city scale, I wish to contribute my efforts, voices and services in a professional and scholarly way. npj Urban Sustainability publishes inter- and cross-disciplinary research into how cities are reshaping and being reshaped to meet major economic, social and environmental challenges. It thus provides a great platform and common ground for disseminating the most up-to-date knowledge, experiments, managerial solutions as well as comparative scholarship in the urban field.

What are you most lookiing forward to in your role as Associate Editor?

As an academic, I am fully aware of the importance of making 'Publish or Perish' decisions and actions. npj Urban Sustainability will publish high-quality research, which makes the peer review process, debates and final decision making more difficult. Acting as an Associate Editor, I personally wish to contribute to the communicative, critical, but frustrating review process, which could help urban sustainability communities to encounter the macro, mezzo and micro views and connections between variegated fields among the global scale. Meanwhile, I also wish to do the special collection commissioning work by inviting world renowned scholars across the globe to elucidate the most robust, sophisticated and truly new knowledge in urban research. I also look forward to taking opportunities to introduce our journal's goals and scope and make it well recognized during my lectures at international conferences, academic forums, research seminars and visits to research institutes and universities.

Why should researchers submit their work to npj Urban Sustainability?

Among the sustainability relevant journals, there still remains a missing academic platform to introduce the institutional fuctions (e.g., the urban system), policy regime and managerial solutions to elucidate the frontier knowledge, science-to-practice continuum as well as the policy makers. At this moment, npj Urban Sustainability emerges to publish the critical studies, case studies and impact studies, including policy solutions for existing cities and regions, and projects for new urban developments. Papers are also encouraged that report collaborations between policy makers and practice communities, and research that more generally supports innovation in urban governance and planning. I would recommend that researchers who wish to share their cross-disciplinary methods, new urban insight and local urban experiments submit their articles to the journal.