Where biodiversity, climate risk, and urban growth collide

A project led by researchers at The Ian L. McHarg Center for Urbanism and Ecology aims to highlight points of conflict between climate risks, biodiversity, and urban growth in a few of the world’s poorest cities.

Among the various transformations taking place on Earth are the distinct but overlapping crises of anthropogenic climate change, mass extinction of plants and animals, and the steady expansion of urbanized space. Scientists and planners know these phenomena to be interrelated, yet to date, little work has been done to understand how these crises intersect in specific places.

Baobob trees in Madagascar.
Madagascar’s baob tree, seen at the Avenue of the Baobobs outside Morondava, is one of the plant species under threat. (Image: Weitzman News)

A new project led by researchers at The Ian L. McHarg Center for Urbanism and Ecology at the Stuart Weitzman School of Design, in partnership with UN-Habitat and One Architecture & Urbanism, aims to highlight points of conflict between climate risks, biodiversity, and urban growth in a few of the world’s poorest cities—with the goal of helping local leaders plan safer futures for their human and non-human inhabitants.

The project is led by McHarg Center Fellow for Risk and Resilience Matthijs Bouw, who is also a professor of practice in landscape architecture at Weitzman, and Co-Executive Director Richard Weller, professor and chair of landscape architecture and Meyerson Chair of Urbanism. Weller has spent years studying conflicts between biodiversity and urban growth through the Hotspot Cities Project and other research. This particular project focuses on three cities: Morondava, Madagascar; Lilongwe, the capital city of Malawi; and Honiara, capital of the Solomon Islands.

Researchers compiled various datasets to identify areas where urban growth, including informal developments at the edges of the cities, threatens to damage areas of high biodiversity. They also identified conflicts between urban expansion and increasing risks from climate change, between biodiversity and climate risks, and between all three.

“There are many cities with that will have between 100,000 and 1 million inhabitants by 2050 that are in these hotspot areas,” Bouw says. “So it’s really important to have a method that’s applicable. And that’s also the objective of the UN—to see how they can replicate this method for other cities, thousands of other cities that could benefit from this understanding.”

Read more at Weitzman News.