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A New Way to Look at Sustainable Transportation

6/27/2003 --

Modern transportation systems have delivered personal independence, economic prosperity and global connectedness -- and contributed heavily to urban sprawl, global warming and social and economic inequities.

Scholars, researchers, urban planners, government officials, corporate representatives and environmental advocates gathered at the University of Michigan Business School June 20-22 to explore these issues and the quest for sustainable transportation.

The conference, titled “Mobility in a Sustainable World: A Complex Systems Approach,” examined the myriad issues, institutions, obstacles and agendas touching the transportation debate through the lens of complex systems studies, an emerging field of scientific inquiry.

This interdisciplinary approach examines a complex system by studying the connections among its environmental, economic, social, behavioral, technological and institutional aspects.

“Almost every conference on sustainable mobility is about cleaner engines. It’s clearly much more than that,” said Carl Simon, director of the University of Michigan’s Center for the Study of Complex Systems. “We were able to look at sustainable mobility in a way we weren’t seeing it looked at before. We have to think about how to keep the momentum going,” Simon added. Efforts could include maintaining the network of experts brought together for the conference, publicizing their work, partnering on research projects and coordinating future workshops.

The conference was sponsored by the Business School’s Erb Environmental Management Institute, University of Michigan Office of the Vice President for Research, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and Center for the Study of Complex Systems, the National Science Foundation, Ford Motor Company, Surdna Foundation and Comerica.

Thomas Gladwin, the Max McGraw Professor of Sustainable Enterprise and director of the Erb Environmental Management Institute, helped organize the interdisciplinary conference. Speakers and participants included Michigan faculty from business, engineering, economics, mathematics, natural resources, political science, public policy, information, sociology, architecture, urban planning, computer science and psychology. Other participants represented the Brookings Institution, Harvard University, University of California-Berkeley, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Arizona State University, University of Wisconsin, Argonne National Laboratory, General Motors, Ford Motor Company, DaimlerChrysler, Comerica, AT&T, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Corporation for a Skilled Work Force, Environmental Defense, Michigan Environmental Council, Rocky Mountain Institute, World Resources Institute and RAND.

Speakers at the “Mobility in a Sustainable World Conference” cited these sources of information on sustainable transportation:

The Center for Sustainable Systems in the U-M School of Natural Resources and Environment:

Moving the Economy, a partnership of the city of Toronto, Canada’s federal government and Transportation Options, a nonprofit organization, which is working to stimulate investment in companies connected to sustainable transportation:

Victoria Policy Transport Institute, a research organization addressing complex transportation problems:

Sloan Automotive Laboratory at MIT:

World Business Council for Sustainable Development, an international coalition of businesses seeking a balance among sustainable development, economic growth, environmental protection and social equity:

Environmental Defense, a nonprofit, environmental advocacy organization with 300,000 members:

A working paper, “Sustainable Development and Sustainable Transportation: Strategies for Economic Prosperity, Environmental Quality, and Equity,” by Elizabeth Deakin, director of the University of California Transportation Research Center:

Information about the study of Complex Systems:

University of Michigan Center for the Study of Complex Systems:

The book Harnessing Complexity (Free Press, 2000) by Robert Axelrod, the Arthur W. Bromage Distinguished University Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at the University of Michigan, and Michael Cohen, University of Michigan professor of information, public policy, political science and complex systems

For more information, contact:
Mary Jo Frank
Phone: 734.647.4626