The Center's purpose is to expand the understanding of the complexity of contemporary urban life and, through it, promote increased civic engagement among people who care deeply for their communities. The Center provides portals for community engagement through the lens of urban ecology to further the understanding of the interconnected human and ecological systems in our communities. 

Urban ecology is the study of the ways that human and ecological systems evolve together in urban and urbanizing regions. Through the comprehensive understanding of the ecology of cities, people can make more informed decisions about the future of places they care about. This urban ecological framework fosters collaborative, holistic and ground-up approaches to city building. Our multi-disciplinary approach to community engagement is applied through educational programs, collaborative projects, fellowships, on-line portals, workshops and publications. 

The Center also creates opportunities for at-risk, underrepresented, and curious individuals to understand their rights and responsibilities as citizens, assisting them in finding avenues for community action. A specific example of this work is a project funded by the Ford Foundation encouraging girls and young women around the globe to observe their neighborhoods, create a response to opportunities and problems they recognize and through these efforts, amplify their voices as engaged citizens. 

Cities are living organisms where dynamic systems metabolize every element. Opening doors where youth can discover these invisible flows makes opportunities for culture change visible. Teaching youth with dynamic, hands-on lessons about the intricate systems of cities empowers them to grasp a city’s essence. This understanding expands the ways they can participate in shaping, repairing and preserving the places they care about. To make a difference we have to know and love our cities.  

To further the understanding and complexity of urban life, the Center is creating a new program that seeks to strengthen the vocabulary, knowledge and skills of journalists who write about cities. This project addresses a shortfall in journalism and provides citizens and policymakers with the knowledge needed to accurately inform the ways people can preserve and transform their communities.

Additionally, in collaboration with the Consortium for Dark Sky Studies (University of Utah), the Center employs a sharp urban focus on dark skies as a resource (natural, cultural, economic) and the environmental, health and social justice impacts of light pollution, light trespass and "the disappearing dark."