Session 79: Drivers and patterns of urbanization: Towards a typology


Session Abstract

The figures that describe urban areas reflect their importance in the 21st century: urban areas are home to more than 50% of the world's population; generate more than 90% of the global economy; two-thirds of the world’s energy is consumed by cities; and generate 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Current patterns of urbanization are significantly different from historical trends (Seto et al., 2010) and urbanization now drives global environmental change and presents challenges and opportunities for sustainability (Grimm et al., 2008). At the same time, global environmental changes such a climate change and loss of ecosystem services present new challenges for urban sustainability.

Yet despite the global importance of urbanization as a process and urban areas as places, the science and policy communities have few empirical measures with which to compare urban places and urbanization processes. The most common metric to categorize, rank, and compare cities and urban areas is population size. Indeed, population size is the only urban metric that is available for nearly every city in the world. However, population size only reflects one characteristic of a city and is not consistently measured across cities or urban areas. For example, NYC is cataloged as 8 million and a variety of other sizes out to 22 million for the full metro area.

This session discussed the development of a typology of urban areas and urbanization that can be used to compare and contrast places and processes in the context of climate change; typologies must be sufficiently flexible in nature such that they can be used for other global change topics such as ecosystem services or sustainability assessments. 

Keywords: typology, urbanization


Key Discussion Points

The following are key areas or needs for future research. These include Scale, Data, and Policy Relevance and their importance for understanding typologies:

  • Making use of information at different scales - typologies can be useful for policy and there is evidence of this at both global and national scales, but examples are limited.
  • Downscaling information from a high level and drilling it down to be useful at finer scales (i.e., making sense of what we know about the city at the county-level and making it relevant for neighborhoods).
  • Integrating the findings of life cycle analyses, ecological footprints, urban metabolism, etc., which have different strengths and units of analyses at various scales of focus, e.g., buildings, food chains, transportation, etc.
  • Overcoming the data challenge, as data is not always available for comprehensive typologies that would, for example, include connectivity, home-employment commute, walkability, all of which would provide richer insight into urban form and influence on emissions.
  • Household behavior data and qualitative data (e.g., power relationships) need to be included in the analyses as well as underlying drivers such as policy and taxation which affect land-use, and hence, emissions.
  • Urban planners want the information typologies can bring, which includes benchmarks and the opportunity for comparisons with sister cities, but research findings must be communicated in ways that speak to the individual characteristics of the respective city.



Karen Seto, Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA



Peilei Fan, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, USA

Presentation Title: Urbanization and environmental change in dryland East Asia: Patterns and drivers

Felix Creutzig, Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change, Berlin, Germany

Presentation Title: A Global Typology of Urban Energy Use and Implications for Climate Change Mitigations

Subhrajit Guhathakurta, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA, USA

Presentation Title: The impact of neighborhood urban form on household energy use: A case study of Phoenix, Arizona, USA

Thomas Crawford, Saint Louis University, Saint Louis, MO, USA

Presentation Title: Urban form as a technological driver of carbon dioxide emissions: A structural human ecology analysis of on-road and residential sectors in the conterminous U.S.

Weifeng Li, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China

Presentation Title: Vegetation cover dynamics associated with rapid urbanization in China's metropolitan areas (1998-2010)

Ayyoob Sharifi, Global Carbon Project, Tsukuba, Japan

Presentation Title: Urbanization and landscape change in a newly developing country: The case of Vientiane, Laos


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