Research Topic

Environmental Data, Governance and the Sustainable City

About this Research Topic

The availability of new types of environmental data has the potential to change the ways in which cities are governed for sustainability. Distributed sensors delivering real-time data can now improve the monitoring and management of urban systems, as well as enabling robust assessments of policy and planning interventions. More than ever, better environmental data is required to address urban challenges ranging from poor air quality to climate change in a joined-up way. However, the distributed nature of many environmental challenges makes it hard to create business cases for real time data. As a result, the current hype around smart cities is not reflected in the technology, working practices, modelling capability or even baseline understanding of environmental systems in cities. Thus, despite the convergence of smart and sustainable discourses on the city as a site of action, practical challenges mean that real time environmental data rarely informs urban governance and planning decisions.

This Research Topic seeks to gather the experiences of cities around the world that have been using real time environmental data to inform decision-making. We are interested in how digital technology makes new forms of governance, politics and planning possible, bringing data and monitoring logics to the fore and connecting people, governments and resources in new ways. We are also interested in technical, social, economic and political limitations of these technologies to secure urban sustainability, and the uncertainties surrounding how they can and should be governed.

We welcome papers that interrogate how environmental data and associated technologies are reshaping governance and policy in cities, particularly from interdisciplinary teams or perspectives. Areas of interest relate to the practicalities, politics and governance of urban environmental data in both the Global North and South, including:
- Societal and scientific challenges, opportunities and barriers for municipal authorities to use real-time environmental data and analytics in cities.
- The challenges and effects of instrumenting urban infrastructure with sensor technologies.
- New forms of data and processing methods (such as Artificial Intelligence) and their implications for understanding urban systems and their resulting governance.
- The different uses of environmental data, from monitoring discrete interventions, to informing operational decision-making, to monitoring progress against policy goals.
- The effects of exposing data, along with related insights, through information portals, APIs and real-time decision support and visualisation systems to vast and disparate stakeholder audiences, including the public, private industry, government and researchers.
- The networks, markets and innovation ecosystems that have emerged around real-time environmental data in cities, and how do they relate to the mix of multiple public, private and quasi-private entities that manage and govern urban systems.
- Concerns around the management, use, access and distribution of environmental data to support decision-making by city authorities under the rubric of smart and digital strategies.
- Challenges in terms of managing and presenting environmental data to make it usable by practitioners, citizens, policy makers and researchers.
- The organisational infrastructure and skills required to capture, maintain and use real time environmental data.
- Challenges to the long-term sustainability of monitoring systems and sensor networks.
- New forms of governance enabled by real-time analytics, for example through the use of digital twins to simulate, predict and test what-if scenarios testing, and their political implications.
- The ways in which environmental data is enabling new forms of urban experimentation and adaptive governance, and/or new forms of international benchmarking or collaboration.
- The role of organisations (e.g. urban observatories) and/or intermediaries (e.g. third sector) in supporting cities.


Keywords: environmental data, governance, urban sustainability, urban policy, smart cities, urban governance, urban planning


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

The availability of new types of environmental data has the potential to change the ways in which cities are governed for sustainability. Distributed sensors delivering real-time data can now improve the monitoring and management of urban systems, as well as enabling robust assessments of policy and planning interventions. More than ever, better environmental data is required to address urban challenges ranging from poor air quality to climate change in a joined-up way. However, the distributed nature of many environmental challenges makes it hard to create business cases for real time data. As a result, the current hype around smart cities is not reflected in the technology, working practices, modelling capability or even baseline understanding of environmental systems in cities. Thus, despite the convergence of smart and sustainable discourses on the city as a site of action, practical challenges mean that real time environmental data rarely informs urban governance and planning decisions.

This Research Topic seeks to gather the experiences of cities around the world that have been using real time environmental data to inform decision-making. We are interested in how digital technology makes new forms of governance, politics and planning possible, bringing data and monitoring logics to the fore and connecting people, governments and resources in new ways. We are also interested in technical, social, economic and political limitations of these technologies to secure urban sustainability, and the uncertainties surrounding how they can and should be governed.

We welcome papers that interrogate how environmental data and associated technologies are reshaping governance and policy in cities, particularly from interdisciplinary teams or perspectives. Areas of interest relate to the practicalities, politics and governance of urban environmental data in both the Global North and South, including:
- Societal and scientific challenges, opportunities and barriers for municipal authorities to use real-time environmental data and analytics in cities.
- The challenges and effects of instrumenting urban infrastructure with sensor technologies.
- New forms of data and processing methods (such as Artificial Intelligence) and their implications for understanding urban systems and their resulting governance.
- The different uses of environmental data, from monitoring discrete interventions, to informing operational decision-making, to monitoring progress against policy goals.
- The effects of exposing data, along with related insights, through information portals, APIs and real-time decision support and visualisation systems to vast and disparate stakeholder audiences, including the public, private industry, government and researchers.
- The networks, markets and innovation ecosystems that have emerged around real-time environmental data in cities, and how do they relate to the mix of multiple public, private and quasi-private entities that manage and govern urban systems.
- Concerns around the management, use, access and distribution of environmental data to support decision-making by city authorities under the rubric of smart and digital strategies.
- Challenges in terms of managing and presenting environmental data to make it usable by practitioners, citizens, policy makers and researchers.
- The organisational infrastructure and skills required to capture, maintain and use real time environmental data.
- Challenges to the long-term sustainability of monitoring systems and sensor networks.
- New forms of governance enabled by real-time analytics, for example through the use of digital twins to simulate, predict and test what-if scenarios testing, and their political implications.
- The ways in which environmental data is enabling new forms of urban experimentation and adaptive governance, and/or new forms of international benchmarking or collaboration.
- The role of organisations (e.g. urban observatories) and/or intermediaries (e.g. third sector) in supporting cities.


Keywords: environmental data, governance, urban sustainability, urban policy, smart cities, urban governance, urban planning


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

30 August 2021 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

30 August 2021 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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