The challenge of the 21st Century is to transition from the sanitary city of the past century to the sustainable city for this century that reduces the reliance on material flows and better integrates the potential of ecosystem services in cities. The California Center for Sustainable Communities’ approach is based on the concept of Urban Metabolism. Urban Metabolism provides an umbrella framework to begin to ask how elements of a city interact and perform, and which inputs and waste outputs most challenge the ability of cities to become more sustainable. Critical issues in this transition from a sanitary city to a sustainable city include current urban government and governance and land use patterns. To move toward greater sustainability, the way in which cities are organized will need to evolve to encourage agencies to collaborate and address resources and land management in an integrated manner. Equity issues abound as well, as a changed urban morphology requires different kinds and intensities of maintenance and neighborhood capacity. We are researching the distribution of burdens and benefits and are concerned with addressing potential inequalities in the built environment. The California Center for Sustainable Communities’ research aims to integrate and synthesize sustainability science from a variety of disciplines to begin to develop innovative solutions.

Ecosystem Services

For cities to become more sustainable, transformations in the built environment will need to take place to better take advantage of natural systems.  Researchers are examining the extent and type of benefit urban ecosystem services such as tree canopy cover, bioswales and reinfiltration zones, might provide to alleviate urban impacts.  At the same time, researchers are examining the governmental capacity to implement and maintain these new infrastructures and possible unanticipated consequences of such infrastructure.  Researchers are also investigating the biodiversity of the anthropogenic landscape, posing questions about ecosystem science, human values and choices and the possibility that cities are the homes of a new, human created, ecosystem. Go to Ecosystem Services



There is little knowledge about how much energy is used by whom, and where, in Los Angeles County.  While there are aggregate numbers about total energy use, more granular analysis does not exist. Researchers are mapping energy and gas use across the County by census block groups and land use to determine patterns across the landscape.  This analysis will be used by policy makers and agencies to best target conservation programs and to help determine potential future trends.  This work is supported by the state Public Utilities Commission, the Governor’s Office, and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Go to Energy



With the passage of AB 32 and SB 375, California acknowledged a clear relationship between transportation and land use, transportation and greenhouse gas emissions, and the continuing burden of criteria air pollutants that fossil fuels produce. Further land use research and development is necessary to both explain and quantify potential energy savings from better integrated land use and transportation practices. The Center’s transportation research includes developing new street and community designs, articulating resource efficiency in regulatory and economic terms, studying the potential of improving electric vehicle penetration, and conducting life cycle assessments of alternative transportation modes. Go to Transportation


Climate change impacts will likely mean less certain water supplies for the Los Angeles region.  Water resources in Los Angeles County include imported water, local native water, stormwater and waste water.  Water is managed and used differently across the region, and much of the region is supplied by water companies that are special districts whose boundaries do not align with political jurisdictions.  Researchers are developing a comprehensive database of all water managers in the region, the organizational structure of each entity (public, private, wholesale and retail) and different price structures to be able to determine whether water prices vary widely across the County.  In addition, researchers are conducting measurements to determine outdoor water use by census block group and land use type in the City of Los Angeles.  The aim is to better understand who is using how much water, and where, as well as to provide a definitive compendium accompanied by interactive GIS maps, of water management in the region. Go to Water


Photo by #WOCinTech Chat, license CC by 2.0.