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date: 06 July 2022

Megacity Disaster Risk Governancefree

Megacity Disaster Risk Governancefree

  • James K. MitchellJames K. MitchellRutgers University

Summary

Megacity disaster risk governance is a burgeoning interdisciplinary field that seeks to encourage improved public decision-making about the safety and sustainability of the world’s largest urban centers in the face of environmental threats ranging from floods, storms, earthquakes, wildfires, and pandemics to the multihazard challenges posed by human-forced climate change. It is a youthful, lively, contested, ambitious and innovative endeavor that draws on research in three separate but overlapping areas of inquiry: disaster risks, megacities, and governance. Toward the end of the 20th century, each of these fields underwent major shifts in thinking that opened new possibilities for action. First, the human role in disaster risks came to the fore, giving increased attention to humans as agents of risk creation and providing increased scope for inputs from social sciences and humanities. Second, the scale, complexity, and political–economic salience of very large cities attained high visibility, leading to recognition that they are also sites of unprecedented risks, albeit with significant differences between rapidly growing poorer cities and slower growing affluent ones. Third, the concept of public decision-making expanded beyond its traditional association with actions of governments to include contributions from a wide range of nongovernmental groups that had not previously played prominent roles in public affairs. At least three new conceptions of megacity disaster risk governance emerged out of these developments. They include adaptive risk governance, smart city governance, and aesthetic governance. Adaptive risk governance focuses on capacities of at-risk communities to continuously adjust to dynamic uncertainties about future states of biophysical environments and human populations. It is learning-centered, collaborative, and nimble. Smart city governance seeks to harness the capabilities of new information and communication technologies, and their associated human institutions, to the increasingly automated tasks of risk anticipation and response. Aesthetic governance privileges the preferences of social, scientific, design, or political elites and power brokers in the formulation and execution of policies that bear on risks. No megacity has yet comprehensively or uniformly adopted any of these risk governance models, but many are experimenting with various permutations and hybrid variations that combine limited applications with more traditional administrative practices. Arrangements that are tailor-made to fit local circumstances are the norm. However, some version of adaptive risk governance seems to be the leading candidate for wider adoption, in large part because it recognizes the need to continuously accommodate new challenges as environments and societies change and interact in ways that are difficult to predict. Although inquiries are buoyant, there remain many unanswered questions and unaddressed topics. These include the differential vulnerability of societal functions that are served by megacities and appropriate responses thereto; the nature and biases of risk information transfers among different types of megacities; and appropriate ways of tackling ambiguities that attend decision-making in megacities. Institutions of megacity disaster risk governance will take time to evolve. Whether that process can be speeded up and applied in time to stave off the worst effects of the risks that lie ahead remains an open question.

Subjects

  • Adaptation
  • Resilience
  • Risk Assessment
  • Climate Change
  • Policy and Governance
  • Urban Issues

Introduction

Megacity disaster risk governance (MDRG) refers to ways of making collective decisions about preventing, avoiding, and reducing the losses inflicted by extreme environmental events that imperil the Earth’s most populous urban centers. As conventionally defined, there are between 30 and 40 such places containing more than 10 million residents.1 Urgent action is required because the disaster potential of megacities is increasing rapidly, under the forcing action of anthropogenic climate change, disruptive societal shifts, and other risks.

Megacity disaster risks are distinctive first and foremost because they are driven by the vulnerabilities of hugely populated, complex, dynamic, and unevenly divided places, most of which are central to the economic and political life of the countries in which they are situated, and to the planet as a whole. Megacities also make a disproportionate contribution to climate-changing greenhouse gases and function as Petri dishes for pandemics, thereby adding new biophysical risks to their existing human and physical vulnerabilities. In short, megacities are crucibles within which a shifting societal milieu ensures that new forms and variants of disaster are constantly being generated, at a faster pace and with geographically wider consequences, than elsewhere (Mitchell, 1999; Pelling, 2017). For governments, managers, and residents alike, megacities provide a context in which the stakes are high, the problems complex, and the pressures to supply answers intense.

Most megacities face threats from cyclones, droughts, wildfires, earthquakes, floods, landslides, or volcanic eruptions, either singly or in combination (Gu, 2019). At least 10 are considered highly vulnerable to three or more of these risks: Tokyo, Mexico City, Osaka, Karachi, Kolkata, Manila, Tianjin, Chennai, Nagoya, and Tehran. Flooding, both coastal and riverine, has been the most widespread and troubling risk. This is particularly so for port megacities that are strategic pivots of the global economy. Often sited in low-lying river deltas, they are threaded by flood-prone waterways that are increasingly affected by a combination of climate change–related risks, including sea level rise, subsidence, and worsening storms. However, megacities located in the interior of continents (e.g., Mexico City, Baghdad, and Chicago) are not immune to climate-forced hazards that involve a changing balance between temperature, precipitation, and evaporation which manifests itself in more extreme fluctuations of river and lake levels, leading to floods, droughts, desiccation of soils, subsidence, reversals of historically dominant drainage directions, and other problems.

In megacities of less developed countries, expanding urban populations are increasingly differentiated into more vulnerable and less vulnerable subgroups, with the former typically spreading into higher risk areas without access to protection and recovery resources. Therein lack of investment in protective systems and the weakness of constituencies that might seek them are major problems. In better provisioned megacities of more developed countries, accelerating losses often are associated with misplaced confidence in engineering defenses and sheltering or evacuation systems that were designed with outdated assumptions. Typically, these problems first show up as failures of emergency management but later reflect more fundamental weaknesses in existing land use, investment, and development practices as well as risk-forcing behaviors that are encouraged by customary sociocultural and political–economic processes. Because existing protective systems typically took a very long time to become established, there are many interest groups that are vested in their continuance; thus, change may require new departures in the processes by which public policies are formulated and administered.

The failure of governments to achieve risk reduction goals has been widely criticized, and existing government systems have been challenged to be more nimble, more inclusive, and more accountable (Davis, 2019; Merilainen et al., 2020; Zeiderman, 2012). At the same time, an insurgent concept of governance has broadened the basis for public decision-making (Integrated Research on Disaster Risk, 2020; Rhodes, 1996). This has encouraged a paradigmatic shift in decision-making that valorizes the contributions of groups which have not previously played major roles in shaping public policy (e. g. nongovernmental organizations, laypersons, and Indigenous peoples).

Nearly all aspects of hazard science are affected by debates about governance because they call into question much that has been taken for granted (e.g., privileging of scientific evidence, assumptions about a common basis of knowledge, stable institutions, known actors, and fixed operating procedures). Subfields of hazard science that have been particularly impacted include the production of risk knowledge and its application to public policy; sustainable urban development; and the empowerment of underrepresented communities in decision-making.

Much literature on MDRG has been published since the topic emerged at the end of the 20th century. Because the status of MDRG up to 2013 was discussed in an earlier analysis (Mitchell, 2015), here the emphasis is on publications since that date.

Evolution of the Topic

Megacity disaster risk governance lies at the intersection of three separate bodies of thought and action—disaster risk, megacities, and governance—each of which has a long history of development. Because they have contributed to MDRG in different ways, it is worthwhile to examine these discourses.

Disaster Risk

Disaster risk is the likelihood of loss from an extreme event, determined not only by physical characteristics of the event but, more important, by human decisions. The concept of disaster risk reflects a centuries-long ascendance of the human role in explanations of disaster (Alexander, 2016; Galaz, 2014; Keys et al., 2019). In the words of Gilbert Fowler White, a geographer who contributed mightily to research on environmental risks, “Floods are ‘Acts of God’ but flood losses are largely acts of man” (Macdonald et al., 2012; White, 1942). Together with disaster researchers in sociology, risk theorists in economics and behavioral psychology, and critics of international disaster relief, White and his students situated humans at the center of discourse about disaster causation and elaborated processes of risk assessment, exposure, vulnerability, and resilience that contributed to losses. This holistic perspective was later reinforced by three global collaborative initiatives.

First, the World Commission on Environment and Development (1987) promoted the concept of “sustainable development.” This advocated managing economy and environment as interdependent activities and led to adoption of Millennium Development Goals intended to guide countries toward a sustainable future. Sustainable development was quickly taken on board by hazards scholars, who helped lay its scientific basis (Kates, 2011). They introduced a parallel concept of “sustainable hazards mitigation” that placed disaster reduction measures in the context of efforts to improve societal resilience (Gaubatz & Hanink, 2020; Mileti & Gailus, 2005).

Second, the United Nations (UN)-sponsored International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (1990–1999) provided a springboard for nations to craft an International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) that institutionalized disaster risk reduction (DRR) and established a global coordinating bureaucracy that has instituted two successive frameworks for executing the strategy (United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction [UNISDR], 2005, 2015). The Decade’s final report identified the vulnerability of megacities to disasters and noted that concentrated effort was needed to address the problem (United Nations [UN], 1999).

Third, the salience of disasters on the global agenda received a further boost when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was set up (1988) in response to concerns that human-induced atmospheric changes were driving a long-term increase in atmospheric risks (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC], 1992, 2012). Anthropogenic climate change is considered one of the principal threats to sustainability (Kelman et al., 2015). Sea level rise related to climate change poses major difficulties for megacities that are located on low-lying coasts and through which the bulk of global trade is channeled (Hallegatte, 2020; Pelling & Blackburn, 2013).

These three initiatives raised issues about the transferability of findings between different geographic scales, and researchers were challenged to develop models that could accommodate such shifts. Social–ecological systems (SES)—a variety of complex adaptive systems—provided one of the most influential explanations of how humans collectively cope with disaster risks (Adger et al., 2005; Coetzee et al., 2016; Preiser et al., 2018; Schewenius et al., 2014). They explain how disaster-impacted ecosystems absorb losses and distribute effects across different scales, while preserving capabilities for survival and rebound. They also open the door to “transformational” policy and management changes that go well beyond conventional alternatives and uncover previously unthought-of adaptive responses (Hornidge et al., 2020; Kates et al., 2012; Munene et al., 2018; Pelling & Blackburn, 2013) Research on SES has provided a more detailed picture of processes that generate disasters and revealed more points for potential human interventions, thereby uncovering more opportunities for changes in governance.

Parallel with the forging of stronger linkage between social and environmental processes was an expansion of attention to social drivers of disaster. The relationship between human exposure and disaster losses was an early focus (Burton & Kates, 1963). Then came a round of “social vulnerability” studies that took account of factors such as age, gender, economic status, ethnicity, language, etc. that systematically privilege or disadvantage certain individuals and groups (Cutter et al., 2003). The term “social learning” began to appear in discussions about means for securing sustainability (National Research Council, 1999; Zhang et al., 2020). Other researchers developed the “social amplification of risk” thesis to explain how humans favored certain “heuristic” styles of response (Kasperson, 2017). A further social “turn” focused on co-production of disaster risk information by experts and laypersons, often through the intermediary of “social entrepreneurs” (Mitchell et al., 2016). “Social media” also became an increasingly utilized source of information, although their importance varied from society to society (Boas et al., 2020). Then came the concept of “social capital” (i.e., bridging, bonding, and linking connections among people) and its application to DRR efforts (Aldrich et al., 2018).

Recognition of social capital as a resource available to groups that had previously not been included as stakeholders helped give them a stronger claim for inclusion in decision-making forums and strengthened efforts to develop bottom-up strategies for risk governance that might complement prevailing top-down arrangements (Aldrich, 2012; MnGumi, 2021; Zurita et al., 2017). One observer regards social capital as an essential component of resilience in megacities (Lucini, 2013) but cautions that the scale and complexity of such places may require modifying the concept because it has previously been explored within the context of smaller local communities (Haas et al., 1977; Kotkin et al., 2014).

The need to address disasters at city scales has received increased recognition. Curiously, although disaster risks are potentially most impactful in megacities, these great urban centers are all but invisible in the suite of highly influential UN-sponsored documents that guide worldwide efforts to reduce disaster risk, cope with climate change, and manage human settlements. Among others, these include the Hyogo and Sendai Frameworks for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR, 2005, 2015), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC’s) (2018) Global Research and Action Agenda on Cities and Climate Change Science, and the UN Commission on Human Settlements report on Cities and Climate Change (UN Habitat, 2011).

It has largely been left to a suite of non-UN public and private organizations to highlight the special disaster reduction problems of the largest urban centers. Among others, they include megacity governments, acting individually or in concert through boundary-spanning organizations; scientific research bodies; foundations and design consortia; organizations representing economic institutions; and megacity populations at risk. Examples of relevant bodies are provided in Table 1.

Table 1. Megacity Disaster Risk Organizations and Interest Groups

New York City (New York City Panel on Climate Change, 2013)

Tokyo Metropolitan Government (“Tokyo Metropolitan Government,” 2019)

Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI, n.d.)

C40 organization (C40 and ARUP, 2015)

Earthquake and Megacities Initiative (Barbat et al., 2015)

Megacities Alliance for Water and Climate (United Nations Environment Programme [UNEP], 2018)

International Geographical Union (Parker & Mitchell, 1995).

United Nations University (Bohle & Warner, 2008; Mitchell, 1999)

Global Resilient Cities Network (Musulin, 2020)

Rebuild by Design (Gendell, 2015)

World Bank (2010, 2014)

Munich Re (2003, 2004)

Swiss Re (2014)

Allianz (2018)

Lloyds (2018)

The fact that risks are embedded in megacities, which are themselves problematic, greatly complicates the process of DRR. In the past, earthquakes and other extreme events have heavily damaged large cities such as Tokyo, Tangshan, and Port au Prince and somewhat smaller ones such as San Francisco, New Orleans, Managua, and Darwin. But megacities are recent phenomena, and history provides only limited guidance about what to expect of future megacity disasters. The experience of New York with Superstorm Sandy (2012) and the COVID-19 pandemic (2020–) may offer one preview.

Megacities

As of 2018, the UN identified 33 megacities, but other classifications include as many as 37 (Brinkhoff, 2020; United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2019). Twenty-one are in Asia, with India (6) and China (5) hosting the most. It is highly likely the numbers will continue to grow, with new additions located mainly in the Tropics (Hoornweg & Pope, 2016). In 2020, the largest megacities were in the Pearl River Delta of China and the metropolitan district of Tokyo, each with more than 40 million inhabitants. Even larger urbanized clusters have been recognized and given names such as megalopolis, mega-urban regions, mega-city regions, and systems of cities (Mookherjee, 2020; Yeh & Chen, 2019). These entities may or may not be functionally different from megacities.

Megacities are distinctive in ways other than size. For example, almost all (35) are “global” cities—that is, cities with a high degree of functional connectivity to other nodes in the global economic system (Globalization and World Cities Research Network, 2020; Yeung et al., 2020). Many (19) are colonial cities that bear a legacy of being shaped by no longer present foreign powers. Almost half (17) are capital cities, at the heart of their respective national public policy establishments and able to command preferential treatment in matters of public spending and cultural salience. Approximately 40% (14) are primate cities, so dominant in urban hierarchies that they contain more or less all of a country’s higher order services and produce a majority of national wealth (Brunn et al., 2008). At least 5 megacities tick all these boxes (Dhaka, Mexico City, Buenos Aires, Lima, and Jakarta). Conversely, most megacities of China and Japan are not colonial, primate, or capitals, whereas most Indian cities, although not capitals or primates, have been strongly imprinted by colonial experience. In short, although large size is the iconic characteristic of megacities, it would be myopic to view their governance issues only through the metric of magnitude.

An important development in thinking about megacities is the so-called Southern turn in urban studies (Streule, 2017). This is a reaction to earlier tendencies to view older, well-provisioned megacities as “models” and younger, disadvantaged ones as “problems.” It also reflects a division between analysts whose research privileges the creative role of urban entrepreneurs and the economic functions of cities and those who focus more on vulnerable populations and the city as a site of political contestation (Danielak, 2020; Marks et al., 2019; Satterthwaite et al., 2018; Wong & Kornatowski, 2015). By highlighting the roles of local community organizations and citizen-led resistance, researchers have provided alternative models of megacity governance that give weight to vernacular knowledge and collaborative engagement between formal governments and lay citizens (Wisner & Uitto, 2009).

A majority of published sources employ megacity complexity as an organizing theme or a point of departure (e.g., Dubash et al., 2018; Santos et al., 2021; Sengupta, 2017; Tellman et al., 2018; Wenzel et al., 2007). Many go further by placing megacity disaster risks in the category of “wicked problems” (i.e., problems with so many overlapping interacting causal factors and feedback loops that they confound analysis and, perhaps, resolution) (Boyd & Ghosh, 2013; Moser et al., 2012; Steckler et al., 2018).

Megacities are also characterized by intracity and intercity contrasts, paradoxes, and contradictions, leading to high levels of decision-making ambiguity (Kalan, 2014). They are the world’s most human-constructed places, but they are beset by some of its least controllable natural risks. They are at risk, but they also provide valued resources (Siriwardane-de Zoysa et al., 2018). Their potential losses are vast, yet their occupants are more effectively buffered against natural extremes than others. Some megacities are predominantly affluent and privileged and others are poor and disadvantaged, but within each one there are great contrasts of wealth and poverty, often in proximity (Caison & Vormann, 2014; Mitchell, 2015). What constitutes “successful” disaster reduction is frequently subject to contradictory judgments within the same megacity (Martinez & Nurlina, 2020). Moreover, from the perspective of potential victims, the risks that are posed by one kind of hazard cannot be hermetically sealed off from other risks posed by other hazards, thereby rendering it difficult to bound the problem for purposes of regulation (Elliott, 2018). The COVID-19 pandemic added further contradictions by requiring simultaneous attention to what some perceive as incommensurate goals of human health and economic welfare.

Contestation is another signal characteristic of megacities (Davis, 1998; Swyngedouw, 2008). For example, in Jakarta poor riverbank dwellers contest government eviction policies that are intended to vacate areas at risk but also serve to deprive poor residents of their livelihoods (Dovey et al., 2019). This activism has brought them into alliance with more privileged urban professionals who have technical expertise that has buttressed the riverbank dwellers’ campaign for recognition and redress (Van Voorst, 2020). The expanding megacity fringe is frequently a site of opposition from rural dwellers whose lands are targeted for conversion to urban uses. Disputes between state governments and budding municipal (village) governments in the periphery of megacities are reported in China, a country in which organs of the central state are generally considered to be all-powerful (Wong & Kornatowski, 2015). Conflicted politics with the potential to spread more broadly are common (Rakodi, 2020; Sood, 2013). U.S. military planners who are worried about political instability have examined alternative forms of megacity governance (Chido, 2016; Danielak, 2020; Marks et al., 2019). In summary, megacities present a range of problems that hamper the DRR efforts of established governments. This opens the door for consideration of alternative governance arrangements.

Governance

According to a leading theorist in the field, risk governance is constrained by three factors: complexity, uncertainty, and ambiguity (Renn, 2017). Most existing research takes account of complexity and uncertainty, but ambiguity-centered inquiries are lagging.

Analysts regard risk governance as an underresearched field, and they are generally critical of megacity governments’ handling of disaster risk issues (Haraguchi, 2020; Ibem, 2011). There is no shortage of candidate causes (Table 2).

Table 2. Factors That Affect Failures of Disaster Risk Governance in Megacities

High levels of exposure to risks (Marengo et al., 2020)

Cascades of risk effects (Lucini, 2013; Wamsler & Brink, 2016)

Urban complexity (Kourtit & Nijkamp, 2013; Straussman & Tiwari, 2016)

Constitutional limitations on the power of cities (Hirschl, 2020)

Poor fits between civic boundaries and ecosystem boundaries (Renaud et al., 2013)

Contradictions between the roles of capital and ecology (Friend & Hutanuwatr, 2021)

Opinion about the role of megacity bureaucracies is divided. For example, in Indian megacities such as Mumbai, Chennai, and Bangarulu, they have been seen as hampering the execution of policy (Dubash et al., 2018). “Siloed” government agencies that do not engage in lateral communication or coordination have long been criticized in disaster management research (Wolf-Fordham, 2020). But others have argued that urban bureaucracies can be sources of reliable expertise that provide stable guidance in times of public distress (Inam, 2005). Some well-respected experts limit calls for governance reform largely to large poor cities (Satterthwaite et al., 2018).

Whatever the causes of inadequate MDRG, efforts to improve it “are failing to promote resilience, because of their disciplinary and top-down approach, in which the decision makers are not aware of the complexity of systems and do not take stakeholders’ views into account” (Santos et al., 2021). Sood (2013) notes that “no paradigmatic or universally effective models of metropolitan governance have emerged” (p. 98). Instead, at least three recognizable types of governance provide alternatives to the existing structures and practices of formal government risk reduction entities: adaptive governance, smart governance, and aesthetic governance.

Adaptive Governance

The concept of adaptive governance has been developing for approximately two decades (Chaffin et al., 2014; Djalante et al., 2011). An adaptive governance system is designed “to accept uncertainty, be prepared for change and surprise, and enhance the adaptive capacity to deal with disturbance” (Folke et al., 2005, p. 464). This type of governance has received the most attention by risk, hazard, and disaster researchers because it is viewed as an aid to improving resilience. This means collaboration, flexibility, and learning across different spatial and temporal scales, different sources and types of knowledge, and different coping measures and norms (Birkmann et al., 2010). However, calls for the employment of adaptive governance systems in cities, and lists of the difficulties that block the path, far outweigh examples of practical implementation and use (Di Giulio et al., 2018). Advocates have been tentative about applying the concept in megacities, preferring instead to focus on smaller cities and peri-urban areas (Birkmann et al., 2016; Geldin, 2019; Rumbach & Follingstad, 2019; Torres-Lima et al., 2019).

Fully fledged adaptive disaster risk governance systems may not yet exist in any megacity, and researchers are only beginning to plumb their possibilities. But comprehensive studies are scarce, even for single megacities, and intercity comparisons are at an early stage. Megacity-centered research has perhaps made most progress in relation to water management issues (Li et al., 2015) in places such as Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi, and Lima, but even so, it is mainly composed of conceptual proposals (Bolognesi, 2014), case studies of specific disruptive events (Butsch et al., 2016), or the construction of local knowledge systems (Jameson & Baud, 2016; Karpouzoglou & Zimmer, 2016; Sara et al., 2016). Coastal communities, which include most megacities, may be most in need of the kind of transformative governance changes that adaptive governance is intended to achieve, rather than the incremental “tinkering on the margins” that characterizes many existing government programs (Moser et al., 2012).

The gap between proposed adaptive governance arrangements in megacities and actual achievements remains wide, especially in the principal global strategy for curbing disaster losses. Not only does the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction not mention megacities but also it does not employ the term “adaptive governance” (Raju & da Costa, 2018; UNISDR, 2015). However, there are “openings” for application of adaptive governance arrangements that might be exploited in the future (Finucane et al., 2020; Munene et al., 2018). The formulation of tools that will facilitate adaptive governance is ongoing, and there are clear signs of progress on some fronts. For example, the process of Health Impact Assessment has shown promise as a mechanism for giving local non-experts in megacities major roles in designing scenarios for redevelopment of disaster-stricken communities in ways that improve the future health of their residents and comport with ecological and economic goals for sustainability (Mitchell, 2018).

Adaptive Governance in New York

New York is exposed to many natural hazards. Following in the wake of two major disasters—the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and major floods that accompanied Superstorm Sandy in 2012—parts of this megacity have made some significant strides toward adaptive resilience but perhaps less progress toward adaptive governance (Berman, 2019; Department of City Planning, New York, 2013; Rosenzweig & Solecki, 2014). At the time of both events, while official reactive responses were often criticized (Wagner et al., 2014), self-organized improvisational actions taken by local community members were recognized as important elements of DRR as well as community recovery (Kendra & Wachtendorf, 2016; Lopez et al., 2020; Schmeltz et al., 2013). The city government, in cooperation with national agencies, drafted an ambitious plan for improving resilience that emphasized adaptive measures (Department of City Planning, New York, 2013). This drew partly on Dutch experience of living with flooding and sea level change rather than attempting to eliminate it as a threat. It undertook a pioneering Rebuild by Design initiative funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Rockefeller Foundation that planned a combination of green and gray engineering and ecosystem recovery measures. This relied heavily on expertise in architecture, landscape architecture, restoration ecology, and planning from both public and private sector organizations. Most of the improvements since then were adopted by existing agencies (e.g., New York City Fire Department) under existing governance arrangements (Pfeifer, 2016). Some affected the internal operation of specific departments; others involved better outreach to members of the public both to receive and to distribute risk information (Chatfield & Reddick, 2018); still others encouraged greater citizen involvement in self-organizing activities that helped shape public policy (Graham et al., 2016). Insofar as the latter changes signaled a strengthening of political efficacy on the part of lay citizens, they can be construed as examples of adaptive governance, not simply government reforms. They also provide evidence of the stubborn persistence of pre-disaster issues as factors shaping public policy innovations in the aftermath of disasters. In other words, in the megacity of New York, resilience has been improved, but public decision-making was not definitively transformed to the degree that proponents of adaptive governance had sought (Solecki et al., 2017).

Smart Governance

Smart governance extends the application of advanced information and communication technologies to support collaboration in planning and decision-making between governments and the populations they serve. This includes increasing the security of cities and their residents against disaster risks (Bansai et al., 2017; Li et al., 2021; Ristvej et al., 2020; Tonmoy et al., 2020). Smart technologies already have the capacity to monitor threatening events and at-risk infrastructures, activate control measures, dispatch warnings, speed up disaster response, disseminate public information, and facilitate feedback and peer-to-peer communications (Goodchild & Glennon, 2010; Matthews, 2019). Many of these features are attended by contentious ethical issues (Bakker & Ritts, 2018; Carraro, 2021). The adoption of smart governance measures may represent a reassertion of a long-standing human urge to control physical risks by means of tech fixes.

Smart governance of megacity disaster risks is still limited, and connections between smart governance and urban sustainability are largely uninvestigated (Tomor et al., 2019). Most studies have featured affluent megacities of Europe, North America, and East Asia. They are places with the most advanced smart systems, although adoption of smart technologies is accelerating in many megacities of the Global South (Loper, 2018). In 2021, the only two megacities with advanced smart capabilities were London and New York, although other smart cities may become megacities (e.g., Hong Kong and Singapore) (Kosowatz, 2020).

Early studies examined the role that smart technologies might play in megacity governance, and more recent ones have probed some of the features that facilitate their use by government institutions and actors. For example, compared to state governments and smaller urban places, megacities such as New York and Mexico City have considerable managerial flexibility and more of the technical skills and financial resources that are necessary for smart governance to work (Gil-Garcia et al., 2021). But managers of multicultural megacities face problems in the delivery of services to heterogeneous populations that require sensitivity to the nuances of different groups (i.e., “cultural intelligence”) (Faraji et al., 2021). Similarly, the role of national and international boundary-spanning organizations that facilitate information-sharing derived from smart technologies has been called into question for making megacities permeable to outside influence (Acuto et al., 2018). One emerging issue that has not yet been examined in the context of DRR measures is the extent to which ordinary denizens of megacities are subject to controls by smart governance systems or have agency over them. Evidence from Tehran suggests that its citizens derive benefits from smart systems, but these do not amount to significant shifts of agency (Mohseni, 2020).

It is difficult to know whether smart governance systems are intended to serve most or all the needs of megacity governance or are simply useful adjuncts to other types of governance. The degree of penetration and takeover of existing governance by smart systems remains an open question.

Aesthetic Governance

Aesthetic governance rests on preferences for certain kinds of design, appearance, taste, beauty, congeniality, and acceptability. Aesthetic considerations are important to design-centered professions such as engineering, architecture, landscape design, and public art and certain traditions of city planning as well as the preservation of historic or unique structures and cherished landscapes. Typically, they have greatest influence on projects in megacities that are intended to function as demonstration models that might encourage emulation in the restoration of disaster-ravaged urban fabric (Duncan & Enquist, 2016). But they may also operate more broadly. Historically, traditional practices of city design have also influenced governance. For example, neighborhoods in Middle Eastern cities such as Tehran have historically been small with limited access (Masoumi, 2019), and geomancy has had a major influence on the location, orientation, and layout of East Asian megacities such as Seoul (Yoon, 2011) and continues to be influential in the replacement of structures in those cities. Likewise, urban imaginaries may shape the material fabric of cities in ways that “lock in” infrastructures and patterns of development (Meerow, 2017; Michel, 2010).

How cities are perceived by privileged observers is a basis for judging the appropriateness of disaster risk governance arrangements in some large cities (Beer, 2014).

Research on Delhi has demonstrated that in the absence of democratic governance traditions, the tastes and standards of some (elite) groups have supplanted the use of mapping and surveying-based decision-support tools to facilitate slum clearance programs and marginalize the poor, subjecting them to disproportionate risks of flooding (Ghertner, 2015). Similar processes have been observed in Manila, where official pronouncements have the effect of identifying and stigmatizing slums as sources of flood risk (Michel, 2010). Padawangi (2019) discovered that flood mitigation measures in Jakarta and other Indonesian cities often come into line with the aesthetic values of the contending classes.

Aesthetic considerations may influence the use of remote sensing and related research tools that distance investigators from direct experience of local conditions. This may lead to the substitution of abstract design principles that are less sensitive to the local conditions that are more evident to field researchers.

It is probable that in contemporary megacities, the foregoing (and other) governance arrangements are not mutually exclusive. Instead, hybridity is the rule, with mixes of some or all types occurring in different proportions and for different DRR functions (Clark-Ginsburg et al., 2020). Without a thoroughly researched canvas of existing megacities, it is not yet possible to determine whether such arrangements are stable or themselves transitionary.

State of the Field

Given the moving target that is presented by a changing roster of megacities, any assessment of MDRG is a work in progress. It is worthwhile to make four general observations about recent contributions of MDRG research to professional literature in the field of risk governance.

First, MDRG is a youthful topic, scarcely more than 20 years old. As of 2020, there were no book-length examinations of this specific topic, but edited collections of papers on closely related topics have been published. These include books on megacity risks (Mitchell, 1999), disaster risk governance in general (Fra, 2016; Revet & Langumier, 2015), urban sustainability and planning in megacities (Rukmana, 2020), urban disaster resilience (Borsekova & Nijkamp, 2019; Fekete & Fiedrich, 2018; Khazai et al., 2015), climate adaptation governance (Knieling, 2016), and urban disaster risk governance in Asia (Miller & Douglass, 2016; Pal & Shaw, 2018; Shaw et al., 2016). Some of these sources contain useful chapters on MDRG (Mitchell et al., 2016). An important review of the pre-2016 literature on urban disaster risk governance is also in print (Gall et al., 2014). Publications with a specific focus on that topic are mostly papers in academic and professional journals or sections of reports by urban governmental and nongovernmental organizations.

Second, research on the governance of climate risks dominates, and this reflects global priorities established by the IPCC. Although geological (seismic) risks received valuable early attention from the Earthquake and Megacities Initiative (Earthquakes and Megacities Initiative [EMI], n.d.), and biological risks (e.g., pandemics) have recently come forcefully to the forefront of public concerns, in the period 2000–2020 they have both been overshadowed as research subjects by sea level rise, floods, storms, droughts, wildfires, and other climate-related risks (Adikari et al., 2010; Pelling & Blackburn, 2013; Weinstein et al., 2019) This, despite the record high fatality tolls associated with both earthquakes and pandemics in large cities.

Third, after an era when cities of the Global North provided models of urbanization that dominated the research and management literature, there has been a strong turn toward crafting new models based on different experience from cities in the Global South (Borie et al., 2019; Caison & Vormann, 2014; Heinrichs et al., 2013; Kumar & Ghosh, 2020; Rakodi, 2020). With a handful of exceptions, many derived from New York City’s encounter with Superstorm Sandy and its aftermath, the disaster governance experience of megacities in the Global North has not received significant attention since 2010.

Fourth, megacity disaster risks have received little or no consideration in strategic documents published by international scientific and policy programs that have responsibilities for guiding research on global issues of disaster risk, climate change, and urbanization. These include the Hyogo and Sendai Frameworks for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR, 2005, 2015), the IPCC’s (2018) Global Research and Action Agenda on Cities and Climate Change Science, and the UN Commission on Human Settlements report on Cities and Climate Change (UN Habitat, 2011). Reasons for this neglect are not clear but seem to reflect concern that an emphasis on megacities might divert attention from the plight of smaller settlements that are more numerous, less well protected, and potentially less able to muster resources for disaster reduction.

MDRG research still relies mostly on standard social science methods for collecting and interpreting data (Haque et al., 2020), but new methods, with the potential for wider use, are appearing (Table 3).

Table 3. Innovations in Disaster Risk Governance Research Methods

Geographic Information Systems (Fekete et al., 2015)

Big data analysis (Ilieva & McPhearson, 2018; Kontokosta & Malik, 2018)

Health impact assessments (Mitchell, 2018)

Time-series photographs (Burton et al., 2011)

Sketch mapping (Brandt et al., 2019)

Social media data (Boas et al., 2020)

Crowdsourcing (Ghermandi & Sinclair, 2019)

Text-mining (Jacinto et al., 2020)

Media diaries (Correa et al., 2016)

Photovoice tools (Schumann et al., 2019)

Storytelling (Moezzi et al., 2017)

Forensic investigation (Oliver-Smith et al., 2016)

Many of the problems of MDRG have been diagnosed and there is a widely endorsed international prescription for them, but whether the scope of problem identification is sufficiently broad or whether the strategic goal of adaptive governance is an adequate response is unclear. For example, Li et al. (2015) highlight problems of fragmentation and the colonial legacy of dualistic urbanism as major problems of megacities. Douglass (2013) and Rukmana (2020) suggest that Asian megacities are undergoing a massive transition characterized by agglomeration, spatial polarization, new vulnerabilities, compound disasters, and the expanding ecological reach of cities. The IPCC’s research agenda for cities and climate change emphasizes co-production of knowledge, empowerment of city populations, and fostering science–policy–practice collaborations as key steps toward urban sustainability, without making reference to megacities (IPCC, 2018). However, although adaptive governance may be preferred by urban experts, other forms of governance—both well-established (e.g., aesthetic governance) and emerging (e.g., smart governance)—already exist, and competition among them is likely to complicate the evolutionary trajectory of MDRG.

The Range of Debates

There are many debates about MDRG, spanning a great diversity of issues. Although they are presented here as opposite and absolute choices, most might be recast in non-adversarial form as questions about plural or mixed choices rather than single alternatives. The most common debates include managerial versus ideological conceptions of governance, top-down versus bottom-up strategies for achieving resilience, and expert versus lay contributions to decision-making. Among other topics that have sparked discussion are descriptive versus normative models of governance; immediate safety versus long-term sustainability; knowledge-based versus empowerment-based approaches; humanitarian versus economic values; the division of responsibilities and authority among different levels/scales of governance; the relative importance of the various constituent principles of “good governance”; definitions of “resilience”; what counts as “transformative” change; the identity of “stakeholders”; the hegemony of different theories of urbanization and risk; whether rights to representation and/or participation should be granted to nonhuman entities; the balance between mandatory and discretionary policies and programs; and how best to extend the planning horizons of institutions.

There is not sufficient space here to provide details about each debate, but one example supplies a flavor of the intricacies. This concerns the role of “green” alternatives in urban risk reduction. Such measures have been widely advocated as a means of achieving sustainable cities (Beatley, 2017; Breuste et al., 2020; Platt et al., 1994; White, 2008). Most of these measures are envisaged as working within existing government systems (Tidball & Krasny, 2014; White, 2008). Thus, “living breakwaters” and flood-retention “meadowparks” have been favored by post-disaster recovery teams (Gendell, 2015), and similar measures are advocated proactively in China’s “sponge cities” campaign (Li et al., 2018; Tang et al., 2018). Insofar as some green measures involve reinvigorating dormant historical practices that are out of favor with contemporary society and would require radical shifts in political mores to be effective, they pose delicate political problems for advocates (Chang & Su, 2020). With few exceptions, the idea that there could be a fundamentally new kind of “green” governance, with actors, roles, rules, and arrangements for decision-making that are different from the prevailing ones, has not received much attention. Among other issues that might surface with the adoption of green governance are the following: implications of awarding rights and liabilities to natural objects and processes (Stone, 1972), representing losses borne by nonhuman species in the calculus of disaster impacts (Bankoff, 2007), and the need for special decision-making regimes that might handle issues of uniqueness and irretrievable loss of natural phenomena or that might attribute environmental value as well as loss to the disruptions caused by extreme events. These are issues that imply changes in governance that go well beyond public–private partnerships and other consultative mechanisms that tweak existing governmental systems.

Although all the foregoing matters are often subject to lively debate, there is also considerable agreement that the reduction of uncertainty is a desirable goal, governance arrangements will likely be crafted on a city-by-city basis, and the complexity of disaster risks should be recognized and accommodated in both theory and practice. What to do about ambiguity in decision-making remains far from clear.

Strengths of Research

A large and increasing output of papers, searching investigations of knowledge construction, and a commitment to interdisciplinarity are significant strengths of MDRG research.

Rapid Growth

When Tierney (2012) surveyed the literature of disaster (risk) governance at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, she described it as a new field and cited only a handful of publications that employed the term. Since then, the literature has expanded exponentially, and the number of publications that focus on just one subtopic (MDRG) has increased dramatically. Approximately 150 journal articles and half a dozen books have appeared in print during the period from 2015 to 2020. This high rate of productivity shows no signs of slowing down.

Construction of Knowledge

Although failure to reduce disaster risks has been attributed to lack of power as well as lack of knowledge (Donovan, 2017), inquiries into the construction of risk knowledge among megacity residents have been particularly prominent in the research literature (Geldin, 2019; Jameson & Baud, 2016; Mitchell et al., 2016; Narayanan, 2020; Sara et al., 2016). Empirical research on risk perception rarely takes place outside the Global North, and when it does, findings suggest that experience of extreme events is less important than generalized attitude to human security (Xie et al., 2014). Certain kinds of risk narrative are associated with specific types of governance (Borie et al., 2019). Studies of different megacities have identified contrasting intracity vernacular conceptions of disaster risks, with Southeast Asian locations such as Manila and Jakarta receiving particular attention (Geldin, 2019; Hornidge et al., 2020; Martinez & Nurlina, 2020; Siriwardane-de Zoysa et al., 2018; Van Voorst, 2020). Investigations of peripheries in other budding megacities (Santiago and Dar es Salaam), where large-scale conversion of natural landscapes is ongoing and there are conflicts between urban and non-urban user groups, raise a different set of challenges for governance (Mngumi, 2021; Torres-Lima et al., 2019). The implications and consequences of epistemic communities for disaster risk management, the co-production of knowledge by laypersons and experts, and the exchange of (traveling) knowledge across cultural, professional, and international boundaries have also been new study subjects (Hornidge et al., 2020; Reyers et al., 2015; Sorrentino et al., 2018). Comparative research on risk trends and governance arrangements has also increased (Ahmadi et al., 2020; Herbeck & Flitner, 2019; Hornidge et al., 2020; Sengupta et al., 2018; Young et al., 2015; Zhou et al., 2020), including studies among megacities in the same country (Fastiggi et al., 2021; Weinstein et al., 2019), between different countries in the same region (Kumar et al., 2020), and in different areas of the world (Doberstein et al., 2020; Sengupta et al., 2018).

Interdisciplinarity

One of the strengths of MDRG research is its collaborative, interdisciplinary nature. Fully half of the referred journal articles surveyed for this bibliography have three or more authors, and some involve much larger teams of dozens of investigators or more (Garner et al., 2017; Yang et al., 2016; Young et al., 2015). Typically, authors are a mix of environmental and social scientists affiliated with institutions that have an avowedly transdisciplinary disaster or governance identity (Preiser et al., 2018). The advent of interdisciplinary team research on major urban disasters dates mostly from the 1980s and owes much to scientific organizations composed mostly of engineers and natural scientists; these organizations opened doors for social scientists to take part in field investigations. Since then, researchers have strongly embraced interdisciplinary scholarship, a trend that drew inspiration from the large-scale international collaborative framework established by the IPCC (2012, 2018) and reinforced by similar global organizations that focus on development and urbanization, as well as by scholarly organizations and the editors of professional journals (Faber et al., 2014; National Research Council, 2006).

Weaknesses of Research

MDRG research, which was once imbalanced toward privileged cities, may be becoming imbalanced toward disadvantaged cities, with unexplored consequences. Whereas complexity and uncertainty are common research topics, very few investigators have addressed the third systematic risk challenge—ambiguity. Most risk governance research has focused on ways of resolving contradictions between economic growth and environmental welfare. Ideally, sustainable communities should also be healthy communities, but there has been little research on the human health dimensions of urban sustainability in the face of risk, as well as a dearth of historical studies.

The North–South Imbalance

One major weakness of research is an imbalance between field study-based analyses of disaster risk and governance in privileged megacities and similar research in disadvantaged megacities. Where once there was overemphasis on case study evidence drawn from megacities in the Global North, the “Southern turn” in urban studies has ensured that there is little fresh published research on those older megacities. Except for papers on infrastructure, privileged megacities rarely receive much attention in the contemporary research literature (Fekete & Fiedrich, 2018; Li et al., 2018). Otherwise, there is a near-total post-2000 absence of papers on disaster risk governance that draw on evidence from Los Angeles, London, Paris, Moscow, Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya, among other places. New York, in the post-Superstorm Sandy era, is a notable exception. As a result, the formal economics of firms and financing in privileged megacities (Georgeson et al., 2016) are increasingly obscured in favor of highlighting the role of household economies and informal economies in disadvantaged cities (Lo et al., 2016; Satterthwaite et al., 2018). A necessary corrective to models of urban risk governance that were biased by reflecting only Western experience (Klein et al., 2018) may have overcompensated, thereby downplaying recent developments in innovative urban risk assessment and design institutions, tools and projects as well as disaster risk technologies, emergent vulnerabilities of sophisticated urban infrastructure networks, and the re-emergence of risks that had previously been adequately managed therein (Torrance, 2009). Superstorm Sandy’s impact on the New York megacity, the slow pace of recovery in many neighborhoods, and the limited progress toward effectuating well-planned improvements have shown that even a megacity region at the summit of global prestige and professional acumen has serious risk governance deficiencies (Insider, 2020).

The Ambiguity Vacuum

Ambiguity abounds in risk governance decision-making, and nowhere more so than in megacities. Contradictions and paradoxes are two important dimensions of ambiguity that make it difficult to come to a consensus about the nature of specific risk problems. Variable definitions of risk, different ways of framing problems, different agenda priorities, contending epistemologies, unstable or competing rules for choosing, and the dynamic contexts in which risk reduction issues are embedded all contribute to ambiguity. These matters are only beginning to be addressed, but the unknowns far outweigh positive contributions to knowledge.

Integration of Research and Between Research and Practice

Failure to integrate diverse contributions about disaster risk governance to knowledge and practice has been cited as a major problem by many different researchers (Gall et al., 2015). Examples vary and analysts differ over whether the problem looms equally large for practitioners or researchers (Fastiggi et al., 2021). Disconnects between physical and social science produce information gaps that have implications for governance (Colten, 2019). Inadequate integration of programs of DRR, climate change adaptation, and urban development is a common criticism (Dubash et al., 2018; Malalgoda et al., 2016; Weinstein et al., 2019). Also indicted are failures to integrate knowledge about formal and informal economies (Robin & Acuto, 2018), expert and lay interpretations (Revet & Langumier, 2015), risk-hazard and social constructionist perspectives (Ribot, 2017), and ecosystem services into risk reduction (Renaud et al., 2013). It is also evident that three criteria believed necessary for successful urban development—the so-called “planner’s triangle” of economic growth, environmental sustainability, and social justice—are rarely integrated or given equal weight in research studies of megacities (Campbell, 2016). The largest number of publications reviewed for this bibliography emphasize matters of social justice; fewer integrate these with formal economy dimensions, and even fewer integrate them with ecosystem considerations. This does not mean that attention to each of these matters separately is lacking—just that holistic analysis is rare.

Health

Despite increasing concern about disasters in the health research community, health has not figured prominently in the disaster research literature (Gall et al., 2015; Mitchell, 2018; Pampel, 2012). There have been discussions about constraints on the health systems of megacities (Fitzgerald et al., 2019; McQuay et al., 2020). There have also been attempts to apply adaptive governance perspectives to the health dimensions of disasters (Andrew & Kendra, 2011) and to integrate health considerations into sustainability programs (Desai, 2020), but the goal of creating healthy communities sits alongside the goal of healthy economies and healthy ecosystems rather than being fully integrated within a holistic purview.

Historical Research

Disaster risk governance systems in megacities often have surprisingly long histories that, with few exceptions, have been largely neglected (Octavianti & Charles, 2018; Tellman et al., 2018). A longer historical lens might be useful for revealing stresses that have led to past failures of governance and could signal the emergence of new arrangements in contemporary ones.

Needed Research

Despite the progress achieved, there is much scope for adding to the investigative agenda. Herein the focus is on three largely unaddressed questions. The first pertains to the functions that governance serves in megacities, the second to the mixes of governance styles that characterize different megacities, and the third to the portability of knowledge and practice about governance.

Previous research has framed and bounded investigations of disaster risk governance around certain assumptions about its purpose, most notably the goal of reducing losses of life and property. However, it is evident that megacities contain many constituencies that hold diverse interpretations of disaster risks and the functions of living that they impair or foster. What one part of a community views as a threat to well-being may be seen by another as an opening for gaining access to land and resources that were previously unobtainable or as a cause around which opposition to prevailing governance arrangements might be rallied. These are not just political issues; they also reflect worldviews that connect with identity. The distribution of such views is largely unknown in megacities. Nor is it known how much urban dwellers are vested in, and supportive of, the different economic, ecological, and justice components of urban sustainability. Moreover, when confronted by the profusion and diversity of experiences available in megacities, individuals and groups—including professional experts—seem to employ metaphorical shorthand conceptions of big cities that have different implications for the management of disaster risks. For example, cities are variously seen as machines, organisms, regulated territories, learning systems, performance spaces and muses, among others (Mitchell, 2005). Viewed in this manner, the meanings attached to concepts such as risk, vulnerability, and resilience may or may not be consistent across metaphors. Together with the material effects of disasters, these all are matters that may have important consequences for the kinds of risk governance arrangements that are favored or contested. It is time to open these questions to deeper inquiry.

Insofar as hybrid types of governance and unique arrangements in different megacities appear to be the norm, it will be important to know the prevalence, locus, and writ of different governance styles (e.g., bureaucratic, adaptive, smart, aesthetic, etc.) within each city. Do they align with certain constituencies or are they organized around certain issues? What are their comparative effects on disaster losses? What contributions do they make to achieving sustainability? Are they closely or loosely articulated with formal governmental arrangements? How do they compete for support and evolve? In the early 21st century, when rapid societal and environmental change has been occurring, decision-making about disaster risks is often expedient and subject to improvisation, giving rise to emergent behaviors. Inquiries about these aspects of governance styles may yield valuable information about optimal combinations of megacity DRR measures.

Finally, in the likely event that megacities will continue to be individually distinctive but will also look to peer communities as sources of useful experience and guidance about governance issues, the composition and effectiveness of knowledge exchanges among megacities are worthwhile investigating. For example, it is already apparent that certain models of professional practice that are identified with some megacities are competing for adoption in other places while studies of “traveling knowledge” and “epistemic communities” are in the early stages of revealing systematic processes that undergird these flows of influence (Bijker, 2007; Hornidge et al., 2020). Elucidating the circumstances that favor or retard such exchanges of knowledge and practice, and the consequences that flow from them, would have great practical value for DRR user groups in large cities everywhere.

COVID-19 Pandemic: A Coda

The COVID-19 pandemic has refocused attention on the disaster risks of megacities and reinvigorated questions about their governance arrangements (McQuay et al., 2020). The virus spread quickly from one megacity (Wuhan) and affected a wide variety of other places, large and small, in the Global North as well as the Global South. Its impacts appear to have been felt most acutely in large cities, disproportionately infecting poorer and older populations and halting or slowing daily activities, while imperiling the survival of many businesses. The weak articulation of disaster risk management systems with those that have primary responsibilities for health, and the inadequate integration of both with systems of education and economic welfare, stands clearly revealed, even in the best provisioned megacities. Concerns about pandemic disasters, which had been ignored by urban leaders, have been propelled to the top of megacity agendas. The pandemic has exposed limitations of existing governance arrangements and public policies, plans and programs for warning and emergency response, the shortcomings of predictive models of diffusion, the vulnerabilities of social mechanisms for coping, the allure of tech fixes, and a variety of other matters that converge most forcefully in megacities. It will take time for the lessons of COVID-19 to be digested and acted upon.

Conclusion

The world’s megacities have tended to attract a great deal of scholarly interest and public attention—sometimes positive, sometimes negative, and often contentious. The onset of a global COVID-19 pandemic, which may have been initially fostered in large cities, has added a new entrant to the already crowded list of megacity disaster risks. Whether or not megacities present disaster risk governance problems that are worse or different than those of other places, and thereby require their own set of specially crafted responses, has been a subject of debate in the research literature for several decades. Whereas some analysts and urban influencers seem convinced that megacities present issues that warrant novel governance institutions and systems, others are wary of granting megacity disaster risks and responses separate status, perhaps fearful that by so doing they will divert attention away from chronic disaster risk problems of disadvantaged populations, both outside metropolitan areas and within them, that have not been adequately addressed in the past. But there is general agreement that alternatives to long-established bureaucratic forms of urban governance arrangements are available and may offer advantages for the reduction of disaster risks that existing conventional forms do not. Among others, these include adaptive governance, smart governance, and aesthetic governance.

Adaptive governance—a concept that addresses the management of problems characterized by dynamic uncertainty—has garnered the most attention. It is well suited to confronting issues of disaster risks and is a normative approach that possesses the necessary scope, flexibility, and nuance to better serve as a strategic vision rather than a detailed recipe book. It is also the approach that may be most compatible with environmental and risk governance arrangements recommended in international agreements on sustainability, DRR, and climate change, although none of those agreements have devoted much attention to the arena of megacity decision-making.

Adaptive disaster risk governance is subject to competition from technologically infused, command-and-control–style approaches, such as “smart” governance, and expedient arrangements that rely on selective conceptions of governance expressed by the aesthetic preferences of political elites (i.e., aesthetic governance) or the professional training of experts, among others. These are descriptive rather than normative approaches.

Hybrid arrangements that combine pieces of each governance style or apply different models to different sectors of public policy may be foreseeable. It would be satisfying to report that there is a consensus among researchers about how best to proceed, but decision-makers in most megacities are experimenting with changes to existing practices rather than adopting any one alternative and following a single path toward resilience and sustainability. At this stage in the development of MDRG, a majority view is that each megacity must craft its own system in accordance with the unique circumstances that it faces; a general model with a high level of explanatory power has yet to be identified.

Perhaps because of the youthfulness of MDRG, there remain many unanswered questions. From the perspective of this analyst, three that bear on the distribution of research effort among different types of megacities seem particularly pressing. Is there an appropriate balance of research on disaster risk governance in the megacities of the Global North and the Global South? How does knowledge transfer occur, back and forth, especially among older Northern megacities and younger Southern megacities? What is the optimal allocation of roles and responsibilities for disaster risk governance among experts, laypersons, and other categories of stakeholders in different megacities?

Beyond these immediate issues lie some more fundamental questions. Chief among these is where to set the boundaries of a research agenda. Should the purview of inquiry extend beyond concerns about loss of life, damage to structures, and economic–ecological sustainability? What other essential functions are jeopardized by disaster risks but have not been adequately addressed? It may be time for a more vigorous engagement with ambiguities that attend risk decision-making. Given the likelihood that megacities are embarked on an evolutionary trajectory into a dimly perceived future, it behooves researchers to craft a broad agenda that encompasses all the important values that are at stake. The search for better systems of MDRG continues.

Further Reading

  • Birkmann, J., Garschagen, M., Kraas, F., & Quang, N. (2010). Adaptive urban governance: New challenges for the second generation of urban adaptation strategies to climate change. Sustainability Science, 5, 185–206.
  • Fekete, A., & Fiedrich, F. (2018). Urban disaster resilience and security: Addressing risks in societies. Springer.
  • Ghertner, D. A. (2015). Rule by aesthetics: World-class city making in Delhi. Oxford University Press.
  • Hallegatte, S. (2020). Storm damages and inter-city trade. Nature Sustainability, 3, 577–578.
  • Hornidge, A.-K., Herbeck, J., Zoysa, R. S., & Flitner, M. (2020). Epistemic mobilities: Following sea-level change adaptation practices in Southeast Asian cities. American Behavioral Scientist, 64(10), 1497–1511.
  • McQuay, K., Surie, M., & Nixon, N. (2020). Covid lays bare the flaws in Asia’s booming megacities. The Asia Foundation.
  • Mitchell, J. K. (2015). Governance of megacity disaster risks: Confronting the contradictions. In U. Fra (Ed.), Risk governance: The articulation of hazard, politics and ecology (pp. 413–440). Springer.
  • Munene, M. B., Swartling, A. G., & Thomalla, F. (2018). Adaptive governance as a catalyst for transforming the relationship between development and disaster risk through the Sendai framework? International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, 28, 653–663.
  • Solecki, W., Pelling, M., & Garschagen, M. (2017). Transitions between risk management regimes in cities. Ecology and Society, 22(2), 38.
  • Tellman, B., Bausch, J. C., Eakin, H., Anderies, J. M., Mazari-Hiriart, M., Manuel-Navarrete, D., & Redman, C. L. (2018). Adaptive pathways and coupled infrastructure: Seven centuries of adaptation to water risk and the production of vulnerability in Mexico City. Ecology and Society, 23(1).
  • Tierney, K. (2012). Disaster governance: Social, political, and economic dimensions. Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 37, 341–363.
  • Tonmoy, F. N., Hasan, S., & Tomlinson, R. (2020). Increasing coastal disaster resilience using smart city frameworks: Current state, challenges, and opportunities. Frontiers in Water, 2, article 3.

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Notes

  • 1. The following are generally considered to be megacities: Guangzhou–Foshan (Pearl River Delta), Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Xiamen, Tokyo, Osaka–Kyoto–Kobe, Nagoya, Seoul–Inchon, Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Karachi, Lahore, Dhaka, Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City, Buenos Aires, Lima, Manila, Jakarta, Bangkok, Cairo, Istanbul, Tehran, Lagos, Kinshasa, Johannesburg, New York, Los Angeles, Moscow, London, and Paris.