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Global Urbanization and Its Discontents

An image showing the encroachment of the urban environment on the countryside over time

Over the last several decades, millions of people have migrated from rural villages and towns into urban contexts which now hold over half of the world’s population. The growth of cities has also been accompanied by an astonishing surge in land values and housing costs, driving housing prices upward and crowding out low-income residents. This multi- institution, NSF-funded collaboration investigates the spatial and temporal dynamics of property, rent, and displacement in multiple world cities and their hinterlands in the 20th century.

Recently the project has focused on the process of urban sprawl in Latin America and its relation to changing patterns of land use, zoning regulations, and distressed landscapes. In the past five decades, Latin America shifted from a predominantly rural society to the world’s most urbanized region. Using GIS and Computer Vision, we analyze remote sense and street- level imagery of cities like Guadalajara (Mexico), Belo Horizonte, and Curitiba (Brazil) to understand how the expansion of cities produced urban vulnerability and distressed landscapes.

In addition, a team in Colombia aims to analyze the relationship between Colombia’s armed conflict and the urban growth of the medium-sized cities. We study the period ranging from the beginning of the 1970s, when the FARC-EP began its territorial expansion towards the center and eastern areas of the country, to 2017, when the disarmament process began after the signing of the peace agreement. We are particularly interested in examining how forced displacement of people from rural to urban zones impacted both population and area growth of these cities. We are also studying how the state and the people have responded to the urban growth of the cities by implementing public policies and local initiatives.