Regardless of nomenclature — “edge cities,” “peri-urban growth”, “ex-urban development” or “suburbanization”— the urban growth patterns evident in the United States during the past half-century have spiked consumption levels of land, water, and fossil fuels, affecting energy and climate systems worldwide. Fueled by economic growth, many developing nations are now adopting Western-style ways of living and demonstrating urban growth patterns measurably similar to the US, although radically different national political and economic frameworks underpin these changes. The land and resource-intensive nature of this type of urban development, and the rapidity with which these cultures are adapting this urban form, gives such urban developments wide environmental and social impacts. What does the global spread of “master-planned communities” and new urban forms mean for the global environment?
We work primarily in Asia with focus on China and India. Over the next two decades, the urban population of China is expected to increase by 400 million people. In India, the increase in urban residents will be close to 300 million. The size and scale of urban population growth and the concomitant urban land-use changes in China and India pose major challenges to local and regional ecosystems, and ultimately the global environment. We conduct detailed case study analysis of rapidly growing urban regions. By undertaking multiple place-based case studies to draw comparisons at different spatial scales and across different political regimes, our research seeks to identify common themes about the international spread of urban areas and policy and institutional levers that may affect the pathways of urban development. Case studies are added to our portfolio when they help to expand our understanding of key processes and dynamics. Our research brings together history, environmental science and policy, and modern geographical analysis to understand urban land expansion. Our work focuses on four themes: 1) monitoring and forecasting the growth of urban areas; 2) understanding the policy and institutional drivers behind current patterns of urban development; 3) assessing the environmental impacts of rapid urban expansion; and 4) forecasting urban growth.
Our projects have been funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation, NASA, the World Bank, National Geographic, United Parcel Service, and international government agencies.