Stanford University’s Sustainable Urban Systems initiative applies multiple engineering knowledge fields in an integrated approach to shape the future of our cities.


Today’s urban areas provide a disparate quality of life and quality of services to their populations, and they inflict a mostly adverse impact on our natural environment. Our challenge is to design and re-engineer our urban environments for the future to provide modern services in ways that allow humans and nature to flourish.

The engineered systems that support cities today are largely stand-alone entities, such as the electricity grid designed by individual sectors under the assumption that bigger is better to leverage economies of scale. Unfortunately, this approach often creates inflexible systems that can be difficult to manage, impose high environmental costs, and largely ignore interactions with the people they serve. Yet with advances in information systems, engineered technologies, and understanding of human behavior, we can design cities that respond better to the needs of the inhabitants and adapt more readily to changing climatic and environmental pressures and demands.

The Sustainable Urban Systems Initiative was born out of a CEE department-wide commitment to the School of Engineering’s Grand Challenge: “How can humans flourish in cities of the future?” It also builds off of CEE’s long history of project-based learning in AEC (architecture/engineering/construction), with the goal of expanding this pedagogical approach to the urban systems scale for students to (i) grapple with “wicked problems” of planning and governance and (ii) learn to develop actionable intelligence for real-world decision-making.

The new Sustainable Urban Systems (SUS) track within the SDC MS program is intended to prepare MS students for career opportunities, including (i) design of urban infrastructure systems that promote social, environmental, and economic sustainability, (ii) analysis of large urban datasets to understand and predict urban phenomena, (iii) assessment of urban material and energy flows to reduce impact, and (iv) build computational models of urban systems to support decision-support and planning. Students would graduate from the program prepared to work at (i) consulting firms advising cities on sustainable development strategies, (ii) construction firms executing projects and programs focusing on sustainable urban systems, (iii) technology firms that are building urban data IT systems and serve as vendors to municipalities, and (v) municipalities implementing sustainable urban system plans.


Join our mailing list to receive quarterly newsletters, and join our weekly conversation on Facebook. See past student projects and initiatives like our annual Symposium. If you are a current Stanford student, explore our courses available during the 2018-19 academic year. If you are a prospective graduate student, learn how you can apply to our new Sustainable Urban Systems concentration in the Sustainable Design and Construction Masters of Science program. 


The Sustainable Urban Systems Initiative is organized by the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford University.