Mega-Trend Urbanisation: Vulnerability and Environmental Risks


Department of Urban and Environmental Sociology



Helmholtz funded (POF II, Terrestrial Systems programme, Cluster: "Impact of Urban Dynamics on Land Use Options")




Worldwide an increasing number of people is exposed to natural hazards, climate extremes and other environmental risks related to urbanisation and land use changes. Local conditions such as high densities and broader societal trends such as social exclusion and inequalities reinforce and aggravate the exposure and susceptibility of urban populations to the negative consequences of environmental change. What is more, the cultural assets and material values concentrated in cities tremendously add to their economic vulnerability. But at the same time cities, their inhabitants, organisational and technical infrastructures possess more resources and capacities to cope with risks in comparison with non-urban areas. This ambiguous role of urban agglomerations has to-date has received rather little attention in research and is therefore in the focus of this project.

The project objectives are to:

  • Identify driving factors of mega-urban land use changes and their effects on urban vulnerabilities to natural hazards, climate extremes and further environmental risks
  • Adapt the concept of vulnerability to urban areas ('urban vulnerabilities') and to apply it in case studies in Latin America and Europe
  • Provide orientation knowledge on integrated adaptation and mitigation strategies to decision-makers

The central task of the project is the analysis of land use changes as well as their effects on urban vulnerabilities to flooding, landslides, climate and climate change-related hazards. It pays particular attention to the social dimensions of urban vulnerability, such as social isolation and deprivation resulting from extreme residential segregation or diseases related to pollution of water and air. The understanding of the multiple and overlapping dimensions of urban vulnerability and the modelling of the (combined) temporal-spatial changes as well as their effects are indispensable in order to generalize certain trends, make long-term consequences explicit and generate transferable results. For this purpose the project employs scenario techniques. They serve as the basis to derive response options (strategies, policies) to cope with dynamic and rapid land use changes and its consequences. The scenarios are complemented by further methods such as questionnaire surveys, indicator-based approaches, focus groups, stakeholder workshops as well as spatially resolved monitoring based on Satellite Image interpretation and GIS tools.

In the first project phase (2009–2010) the project builds primarily on the work of the Helmholtz research initiative 'Risk Habitat Megacity' with an empirical focus on megacities (particularly in Latin America, with emphasis on Santiago de Chile). Research will be complemented by reference cases from Europe.

The project has a strong capacity building component. The development of scenarios is conducted in close cooperation with stakeholders. Four young researchers at the UFZ advance their PhD work under the frame of this project.