Dense urban area

Challenges & knowledge gaps for the urban research community

CIBSE Resilient Cities urban microclimate event brought together leading scientists and practitioners with an interest in the built environment and cities, to share the latest scientific knowledge and start towards stimulating ideas towards the development of high density resilient and sustainable cities. As an early career urban climate scientist, the event was a fantastic opportunity to both gauge how my research in the observation and modelling of the urban atmosphere could be applied by practitioners, and how I could tailor my future research to meet their needs.

Event chair, Dr. Gerald Mills summarised the day with the following points:

  • We need to develop a framework for the science of cities, which takes a holistic approach. Not only accounting for the urban fabric and atmosphere but its inhabitants and their actions.
  • There are mismatches in scale and actions between different fields. It appears from the discussions that the neighbourhood scale should be more prevalent in our work.
  • We need a common set of urban data that is not only available to all who require it but also needs to be maintained and updated. Decisions are required as to what our data requirements are and how to collate/collect it.
  • Our models of the urban atmosphere, fabric and energy use need to be continually developed and evaluated so that we have the tools available to meet future challenges. We need to account for processes over a range of scales while addressing those we don’t fully understand or represent (e.g. interactions between outdoor and indoor climate).

The event was a good starting point and highlighted the need to work together to improve our cities using an interdisciplinary approach. How we achieve this though still needs to be determined.

For those of us in the urban climate research community, the day provided much insight into the activities of other groups and fields. Reflecting on the day, I feel there are 4 key areas which as a community we need to focus on going forward.


  • Ensure understanding of all scales that impact on urban processes and how they link, not only in our own research but those used by practitioners.
  • Focus research on linking scales, as there often seems to be a disconnect in many fields who are single scale focused and use assumed boundary conditions which in themselves may be inaccurate.
  • Continue to educate and share knowledge on the importance of scale both within and outside the urban climate community, in particular the neighbourhood scale which practitioners seemed interested in.


  • Are we making the best use of the data we already have? Probably not. We need to improve the communication of what datasets are available and how we share them, to aid understanding of processes and evaluate models.
  • Community effort to identify and access data sets from other fields, industry and non-traditional observations (e.g. ‘Big data and ‘Crowdsourcing’).
  • Need to overcome barriers which we cannot solve on our own. For example, how to store, process and maintain large data sets in accessible formats, and make a stronger case to industry to share data of a sensitive or commercial nature for our research (could be achieved through anonymising and aggregating data at relevant scales).

Models & tools

Our models need to be accessible and user-friendly to practitioners and policymakers to ensure that the latest science is being applied (not rules of thumb) to solve real world problems. In doing so we need to ensure clear communication of assumptions made, uncertainty and limitations, while ensuring best practice in their use. We need to demonstrate to practitioners that our models are fit for purpose – this could be achieved through the use of benchmarking data and case studies.

Knowledge exchange

Greater effort is required to find out what practitioners and policy makers require so that our research has utility and impact. Improvement in the exchange of knowledge between disciplines of urban climate science and engineering to ensure we are not ‘re-inventing the wheel’ but are moving the field forward. This could be achieved through publication in trade journals or presenting work outside of our field. Collaborative interdisciplinary research is a necessity to answer the big questions concerning future cities. We need to work hard to form such links both within and outside our institutions and with industry. This could be achieved by joining and contributing to knowledge exchange networks such as CIBSE Resilient Cities.

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