Crucibles of Hazard: Mega-cities and Disasters in Transition
1999, 450 pages
Edited by James K. Mitchell
As a result of repeated experiences with devastating
earthquakes, storms, floods, and wildfires, places like
Tokyo, Mexico City, San Francisco and Los Angeles are
already identified with catastrophe in both scientific
literature and popular culture. Similar prospects face less
obvious urban candidates like Dhaka, Miami, London,
Lima Seoul, and Sydney.
This collaborative study of environmental risks in ten
of the world's major cities was led by the International
Geographical Union's Study Group on the Disaster
Vulnerability of Mega-cities. Geographers, planners, and
other experts examine the hazard experiences of case study
cities and analyse their future risks. The authors conclude
that the natural disaster potential of the biggest cities
is expanding at a pace which far exceeds the rate of
New amalgams of hazard are being created in metropolitan areas with overlapping natural, technological,
biological, and social risks, exposing more people and
places to environmental hazards. Safety gaps are widening among
differentially vulnerable populations and neighbourhoods at risk. Public
policies and hazard response measures are increasingly being tested
beyond their capacities, with tragic consequences.
In addition to tracing hazard trends and arguing in support of management reforms that can be implemented quickly, Crucibles of Hazard
directs attention to long-term issues of safety and security that must be
resolved to sustain urban areas. Opportunities for such innovative policy-
making include: capitalizing on the role of hazards as agents of urban
diversification; broadening the scope for employing hazard-based contingency planning models in other urban governance contexts; and mobilizing hazard myths and metaphors as unifying sources of inspiration for diverse and sometimes fractious metropolitan constituencies.
James K. Mitchell chaired the US National Academy of Science Ad Hoc
Committee on the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction, and is
founding editor of the journal Global Environmental Change. He is currently
Professor of geography at Rutgers University.