Universities and research institutes are typically located in the heart of cities, providing access to a talented pool of researchers, proximity to other scientific institutions, and industry connections. This has led to these institutions playing a critical role in driving urban economies. It is not surprising that some of the world’s largest cities dominate the leading Science Cities based on research output in the Nature Index. For example, Beijing, China’s capital city, sits at the top of this list with its research institutions collectively scoring a Share of 3,735 in 2022 for publications in the 82 natural-science journals tracked by the database. Other major urban centers such as New York, Shanghai, Tokyo, Paris, Seoul, and London also feature in the top 20.
While there are clear scientific and economic advantages to having research institutions cluster in large cities, there are growing concerns about how science benefits populations living far from urban areas. Questions about this issue have contributed to urban-rural tensions in some countries and underlying national political trends such as populism. However, research can bring crucial progress and benefits to rural communities as well.
For example, rooftop solar panels can help alleviate poverty in Chinese villages while research-backed interventions can improve the health of rural immigrant and Indigenous populations in the United States. By demonstrating meaningful impact on the ground through science projects like these ones, scientists can show their worth beyond just benefiting people living in cities. Every example of science changing lives outside of urban areas can help reduce any resentment that might have grown between people living in cities and elsewhere.
This supplement acknowledges financial support from organizations such as the Beijing Municipal Science & Technology Commission and Administrative Commission of Zhongguancun Science Park for producing this supplement. As always, Nature retains sole responsibility for all editorial content.