Worldwide, about one billion people live in squalid, overcrowded urban areas — or slums, according to a study published earlier this year in the journal Science Advances. Researchers project that the situation will worsen in coming years, with about three billion people expected to live in slums by 2050 if the issue isn’t addressed, according to a lengthy report from UN-Habitat. “Achieving sustainable development from rapid urbanization relies critically on creating cities without slums,” the Science Advances study’s authors wrote.
In a math-fueled study, the team (which included researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Santa Fe Institute, Sam Houston State University and the University of Chicago) used satellite imagery and government data to develop mathematical algorithms investigating differences between “slums and planned neighborhoods,” a news release notes. What’s more, they proposed methods of creating access to critical resources in slums without creating undue costs or disruptions.
Maximizing potential for human development and economic growth
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals set forth by the United Nations “are the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all,” UN.org states, adding “They address the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, and peace and justice.” The overarching goal is to achieve each of those smaller, interconnected goals by 2030. That international agreement and the New Urban Agenda for sustainable global development “call for the transformation of all slums into serviced, formal neighborhoods,” the Science Advances study’s authors wrote.
The team focused on communities in which the spatial layout of homes and businesses lacked sufficient space to provide access to streets, sanitation networks and other critical urban services. In other words, some of these communities lack space for sewer lines, roads and even pipes, the news release notes. Unplanned or informal land use often yields these results, the team wrote. Strikingly, many places in these areas are without physical addresses and can’t be reached by vehicles, including ambulances and fire trucks.
A topological view of cities
While the geometry of cities plays a role in understanding them, this research team instead focused on studying cities from a topological perspective.