The Environment and Rapid Urbanization: Crossroads of a Disaster

December 2011

The world is rapidly urbanizing, with over half the world's population now living in urban areas. The current pattern of urbanization, however—into unplanned slums or the city periphery—places communities directly in the most vulnerable areas for environmental emergencies such as floodplains with poorly built and crowded settlements lacking very basic city infrastructure.

Additionally, cities are outpacing the use of available resources and degrading their very protections from environmental emergencies with deforestation, land erosion, and clogging of natural water runoff paths. This recipe for disaster is now playing out across the world and is currently most obvious with the recent flooding in many cities of Brazil. City planners, policy makers, and aid agencies will need to learn how to mitigate the degradation of environmental protections with rapid urbanization, as well as develop strategies for responding to these most vulnerable but growing sections of their population. A better understanding of this interplay between urbanization and the environment and how they affect each other will be required.

The purpose of this exploratory seminar is to convene academics and experts in the field to examine three main issues aimed at setting the direction of future research in this space:

  • Analysis of how climate change and the environment are affecting urbanization and the reciprocal patterns of urbanization’s effect on the local environment

  • Analysis of the most recent urban environmental emergencies and determine the patterns of vulnerability and risk factors for their occurrence

  • Analysis of current efforts aimed at strengthening environmental protections and mitigating the vulnerabilities communities face from natural disasters