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A summary of my research interests
My research thus far revolves around several central themes and concepts of urban dynamics and their implication for global environmental change. Cities are increasingly becoming the dominant form of human settlements and their interaction with the global environment presents great challenges for sustainability. Urban land-use change is expected to be one of the biggest environmental challenges of the 21st century. The global shift from rural to urban living has been a defining global trend of the last 100 years. Cities have become important entities in the world’s social, economic, cultural, political, and environmental spheres. The most recent United Nations World Urbanization Prospects report pinpoints that half of the world’s population now lives in cities compared to 30% fifty years ago and 10% one hundred years ago. Importantly, most of the future world population growth up to 2030 is projected to occur in the rapidly growing cities of poor African and Asian nations (around 80% of the total) as well as in Latin America. Africa and Asia today are urbanizing more quickly and at a larger volume respectively than the rest of the world’s regions. While we expect an increasing number of megacities, the majority of future urbanites will live in rapidly growing medium-sized or small developing-world cities, subject to many present-day urban pathologies.

I’m primarily interested in a range of topics that fall within the topics of urban spatial dynamics and sustainable urban landscapes – viewed, researched and studied through a multiplicity of disciplines such as geography, economics, regional science and urban studies. In my published, forthcoming and planned future work I explore distinct approaches on urban spatial dynamics and sustainability across different scales. My research provides a better understanding of evolving urban spatial structure and its implication for the environment utilizing metrics that explicitly measure urban form and analysing the size distributions of urban clusters in metropolitan areas; I advance the field of urban growth modeling and forecasting through statistical and computational models; and I analyze the spatial patterns of economic activity focusing on the drivers of commercial and industrial land use changes and the location decision of foreign direct investment firms. I explore the above themes and research questions using a combination of advanced statistical and computational models, geographical information systems (GIS), remote sensing, spatial/landscape pattern metric analysis, and the examination of statistical regularities in urban phenomena such as scaling laws and rank-size distributions. My research has focused so far primarily on the Pearl River Delta in South China but I have also worked on urbanization patterns in metropolitan areas in the United States. In the future, I would like to expand my research in other rapidly urbanizing regions of the world and engage in comparative studies with cities of the Western world.

Research Progress to date: Themes, Methodologies and Impact

  • The Evolution of Urban Form and Global Urban Land Expansion
  • Modeling and forecasting urban growth in data-sparse environments
  • Understanding drivers of urban growth
  • Institutional Dimensions of Global Environmental Change / Earth System Governance

Future Research and Goals
The main problem I wish to address in my future research is the difficulties of establishing a path towards sustainable urban futures due to the loose coupling of ideas, concepts and methods in the literatures of urban dynamics and environmental science/ecology. This is a critical problem for the advancement of knowledge in distinctive fields and generally towards the goal of integrated and interdisciplinary social science. The linkages of urbanization processes, and its socioeconomic and biophysical drivers, to environmental and ecological functions and vice versa are critical in that regard. I want to further explore the complex bidirectional connections of urban land use change and environmental processes in order to understand the implications for urban sustainability: local environmental, ecological and climatic conditions, institutional settings and demographic factors require a careful consideration before the truth of a proposition of urban sustainability is established.

My future research on sustainable urban landscapes will focus on several themes extending the research programme I have already initiated. One, the emergence of regularities in intra-metropolitan urban systems worldwide, brought about by complex human-environment interactions, have to be accounted for due to the fact that they may constrain options of urban development form, especially further away from urban cores; I seek to identify optimal paths through which those constraints could be ameliorated by intervention in the function, pattern/shape and the spatial arrangement of urban clusters. Two, a time-series analysis of landscape pattern indices and/or rank-size distributions of urban clusters within and across metropolitan urban systems, revealing oscillations in the trends of metrics and distribution parameters across time, can provide critical information for urban design and sustainable land use. Remote sensing of urban environments has a clear role in this regard and any information derived from sattelites needs to be analysed together with socioeconomic data. Three, further advancements in the field of urban growth modeling and forecasting are already under way. Capturing pattern in a better way is critical for our ability to give prescriptive advice towards the creation of sustainable urban landscapes.