Research objectives

CITIES promotes a fully integrated and interdisciplinary vision of cities so that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. To that end, we identify and stimulate synergies across NYUAD divisions to deliver scientific insights from multiple perspectives, mostly based on fundamental research complemented with experimental and data-driven approaches.

To investigate interdependencies between urban components: Given the multitude of visible and hidden connections between the city’s physical, digital, and social layers, many interventions have unintended consequences that are easily overlooked. Thus, the accumulated risk in urban systems is typically higher than expected. CITIES leverages the knowledge embedded in different disciplines and supports it with new research/data sharing mechanisms, so that the results or measurements that one project takes as an outcome of interest, can be used as an explanatory factor in another project whenever possible. The goal is to better quantify the connections between layers, and more specifically, between urban components. CITIES also aims to act as a transformative force to redefine urban science along these lines and sensitize researchers whose work focuses on one layer to consider the implications for others.

To analyze interactions across layers at multiple scales: In aims of better understanding the characteristics of future cities, it is fundamental to envision the scalability of countless interactions and the resulting macro phenomena. Unlike cities in the past, the microscopic interactions in present-day and (more so) future cities will take place between humans and robots, infrastructure components and AI, humans and sensors, etc. These interactions are creating big shifts and will shape the dynamics of all urban life facets. Therefore, an understanding of how interactions across layers scale within and across urban systems is highly needed, to both, better assess the performance of the city’s different systems and predict the outcomes of policy/planning interventions at the city level.

To complement fundamental research with an experimental approach and data-driven insights from field labs in the heart of Abu Dhabi: CITIES supports the deployment of two field labs to guarantee access to both, high-resolution data from dense instrumentation throughout the labs and the controllers that govern their operations. Data generated by sensors and actuators are archived in high-resolution formats, allowing researchers to reconstruct the states of the various systems at any point in time. Such data is used to better inform the fundamental research supported by the Center. Access to the controllers allows us to study the impacts of various interventions at a very detailed level. This is critical to the proper design of larger scale policies and interventions. We envision the labs to serve as incubators that bring together researchers from various disciplines related to cities.

To augment decision-making capabilities both at the individual and institutional level using artificial intelligence, interactive visualization, and other information-based tools: Often smart-city initiatives emphasize the value of data collection, heavily instrumenting a city to track its daily minutiae. This can create a data deluge that is hard to explore or extract useful insights from. CITIES frames its data-drive around clear user-driven goals, and utilizes AI and interactive visualizations to augment human intelligence when exploring or analyzing a city’s data. CITIES promotes research and develops sophisticated tools to showcase the important role of individuals in benefiting the city and, in response, nudge people to modify their behaviors accordingly. This also helps decision-makers at different levels understand a city’s current inner-workings, and develop and evaluate future initiatives to address a city’s challenges.

To develop innovative yet pragmatic solutions tailored to the specific challenges faced by cities such as Abu Dhabi: While most fundamental research is creative by nature, its immediate usefulness to society is sometimes limited. This is due to the disconnect between academia and the real world. To overcome this, CITIES promotes a strong collaboration between different local and global stakeholders to foster a research environment where innovative ideas can be translated into pragmatic solutions, ultimately helping shape the cities of tomorrow.