What is the problem of the cities

Megacities

Bernd Hansj├╝rgens

To person

Prof. Dr. Bernd Hansj├╝rgens, born in 1961 in Olpe / Westphalia, has headed the Economics Department of the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research GmbH - UFZ since 1999. At the same time he holds the professorship for economics, especially environmental economics at the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg. He is responsible for the Helmholtz program initiative "Risk Habitat Megacity" (2005-2013). The research initiative is dedicated to the risks of urbanization and strategies for sustainable development in megacities and metropolitan areas.

Dirk Heinrichs

To person

Dr. Dirk Heinrichs, born in Bielefeld in 1966, has worked in the Department of Urban and Environmental Sociology at the UFZ since 2005. He coordinates the research initiative "Risk Habitat Megacity". Before that, Dirk Heinrichs worked as a consultant for urban and regional planning and taught in the postgraduate study program SPRING at the Faculty of Spatial Planning at the University of Dortmund.

Sustainable development in megacities

Cities in particular offer the opportunity for sustainable development. But so far, many metropolitan regions can be described more as "risk habitat": high air pollution, inadequate sanitation, stinking piles of rubbish. What are the problems of urban growth? And what can a strategy for sustainable urban development look like in order to turn cities into sustainable living spaces?

The two authors belong to the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research GmbH - UFZ. The UFZ was founded in 1991 and is the first and only research facility of the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centers to focus exclusively on environmental research. The Helmholtz Association has a total of 15 centers with around 24,000 employees.

The number of people in megacities is growing rapidly. Around 280 million people currently live in the twenty largest metropolises. Ascending trend. In particular, the megacities in the developing and emerging countries are cope with the population growth less and less: the consequences are tight living space, congested roads and inadequate supplies of water or electricity. At the same time, growth affects natural ecosystems and thus the livelihoods of the population.


Mega urbanization goes hand in hand with opportunities and risks. It offers opportunities to improve human living conditions. Many megacities are engines of growth and centers of productivity. According to calculations by the OECD, Mexico City and Sao Paulo, for example, generate around 50 percent of the nation's income. Bangkok contributes more than 40 percent to the national gross national product, although only ten percent of the country's population live there. Personnel and capital are concentrated in these cities. Then there are social resources such as non-profit institutions and local organizations. The concentration of the population in megacities offers the possibility of an efficient provision of goods and services with comparatively low per capita costs: For example, the supply and recycling of drinking water or waste disposal. Cities offer great potential for limiting individual traffic and providing public transport systems.


However, rising productivity has not yet been able to solve the massive problems of environmental degradation, poverty and inequality. On the contrary: the large agglomerations heavily pollute the environment, reduce biodiversity and the diversity of living beings, and deplete natural resources. At the same time, the extent of poverty in them is worsening. Nowhere is the contrast between rich and poor more striking than in the megacities of developing and emerging countries: poverty is becoming urban. Poverty is increasingly concentrated in certain districts that become the living space of the disadvantaged. In the metropolises of Latin America and the Caribbean, the need in the cities is already greater than in the countryside.