Uncomfortable knowledge: Mechanisms of urban development in adaptation governance

Hallie Eakin, Svenja Keele, Vanessa Lueck

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Urban economic development is one of the primary engines of hazard exposure and differential social vulnerability, nevertheless, the drivers of urban development are rarely explicitly tackled in work on climate adaptation or resilience governance. When the imperative of urban economic and spatial growth is taken as a given, the mechanisms that perpetuate it remain unexplored and unquestioned. Lack of attention to such mechanisms, and specifically the politics of urban land use, can lead to ineffective planning and maladaptation. In this review, we explore the intersection of scholarship on urban climate adaptation governance and the political economy of urban development to identify the specific contemporary mechanisms that perpetuate uneven patterns of urban vulnerability and undermine adaptation planning. We are guided by three questions: What are the mechanisms that urban managers employ to assign rights and responsibilities to land, and thus allocate spatial exposure to risk? How is land implicated in cities’ efforts to finance themselves and their activities, and what are the implications for adaptation? What mechanisms enable urban actors to protect themselves from risk and respond to uncertainty? We emphasize the need to place urban climate governance within the broader political dynamics of urban development for more effective, equitable and ultimately sustainable vulnerability interventions. We find that instruments of urban development are often supporting the prioritization of economic rewards over equitable and just distribution of risk and rights to adaptation benefits. We conclude by highlighting the “uncomfortable knowledge” that if sustainable adaptation is to be achieved, the mechanisms of urban development and associated actors that shape, steer and utilize these instruments for a variety of means and goals, must be made visible and addressed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number106056
JournalWorld Development
StatePublished - Nov 2022


  • Growth machine
  • Land use policy
  • Politics of adaptation
  • Sustainable adaptation
  • Urban development
  • Urban resilience

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Building and Construction
  • Development
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics


Dive into the research topics of 'Uncomfortable knowledge: Mechanisms of urban development in adaptation governance'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this