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The urban domino effect: a conceptualization of cities’ interconnectedness of risk

  • Christine Wamsler
  • Ebba Brink
Publishing year: 2016
Language: English
Pages: 80-113
Publication/Series: International Journal of Disaster Resilience in the Built Environment
Volume: 7
Issue: 2
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Abstract english

Cities are both at risk and the cause of risk. The interconnectedness of urban features and systems increases the likelihood of complex disasters and a cascade or “domino” effect from related impacts. However, the lack of research means that our knowledge of urban risk is both scarce and fragmented. Against this background, the purpose of this paper is to examine the unique dynamics of risk in urban settings.

Based on literal reading, grounded theory and systems analysis, this conceptual paper presents a framework for understanding and addressing urban risk. It conceptualizes how interdependent, interconnected risk is shaped by urban characteristics and exemplifies its particularities with data and analysis of specific cases. From this, it identifies improvements both in the content and the indicators of the successor to the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA2) that will be adopted in 2015.

While it is common to see disasters as “causes”, and the destruction of the built environment as “effects”, this paper highlights that the intricate links between cities and disasters cannot be described by a unidirectional cause-and-effect relationship. The city–disasters nexus is a bidirectional relationship, which constantly shapes, and is shaped by, other processes (such as climate change).

Practical implications
This paper argues that in-depth knowledge of the links between cities’ characteristic features, related systems and disasters is indispensable for addressing root causes and mainstreaming risk reduction into urban sector work. It enables city authorities and other urban actors to improve and adapt their work without negatively influencing the interconnectedness of urban risk.

This paper presents a framework for understanding and addressing urban risk and further demonstrates how the characteristics of the urban fabric (physical/spatial, environmental, social, economic and political/institutional) and related systems increase risk by: intensifying hazards or creating new ones, exacerbating vulnerabilities and negatively affecting existing response and recovery mechanisms.


  • Social Sciences Interdisciplinary


  • ISSN: 1759-5908
Christine Wamsler
E-mail: christine [dot] wamsler [at] lucsus [dot] lu [dot] se

P.O. Box 170, SE-222 70 Lund, Sweden
Phone: +46(0)46- 222 80 81
info [at] lucsus [dot] lu [dot] se