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June 24, 2019

As you’ve probably heard, NSF is funding more than 22 workshops on sustainable urban systems that were proposed in response to the Dear Colleague Letter, “Conference Proposals on Concepts for Advancing Sustainable Urban Systems (SUS) Research Networks.” The EMT members who attended this year’s SRN Awardees’ Conference at NSF learned that the foundation is viewing these workshops as fodder to the development of a new solicitation for urban research networks. We are asking UREx members to keep everyone informed if you attend one of these workshops; you can write a short email and send it to Angela, or submit a piece for the blog or the newsletter. In that vein, I’m writing here to report on a workshop I attended in Cairo, Egypt from 8–14 June.

The workshop, “Sustainable Smart Cities in Arid Regions,” was funded by the NSF’s Office of International Science and Engineering through a grant to the University of Alabama Birmingham’s (UAB) Sustainable Smart Cities Research Center and sponsored by the Egyptian Housing and Building Research Center and Alexandria University. Participants came from ASU, Georgia Tech, MIT, UC Berkeley, and UAB in the USA, Canada, UK, Germany (German International Cooperation Program in Egypt), and several Egyptian universities, governmental, and non-governmental organizations.

Egypt group in front of the Pyramids

After a delightful two days of learning about ancient Egypt and the present-day city of Cairo, the workshop began with just three plenary talks, each setting the stage for in-depth workshop discussions on three themes: informal settlements and sustainable housing, urban health and well-being, and sustainable water management. There were many architects and building engineers, public health/community medicine participants, and hydrologists, but only one ecologist (me). The products of each working group’s discussions over the ensuing two days were potential collaborative proposals. The water group produced five ideas for moderately sized projects and one grandiose scheme (“Sustainable Nile Communities”) featuring activities at the scale of the Nile Basin and target communities, both in the context of wicked water problems of scarcity, climate change, and pollution, with a look to the future. I hope to continue discussions that may lead to new projects in collaboration with Egypt; for example, comparative studies of sustainable water management for the Nile and Colorado basins or sustainable future visions for Cairo or small communities along the Mediterranean.

picture of the Nile from boat view

The NSF program director from OISE made frequent comments about his hope that the outputs of these workshops would both lead to new collaborations and potential funding, as well as provide input to the group at NSF that is developing the new solicitation on sustainable urban systems. —Nancy Grimm, 21 June 2019

Palace in Cairo