Disaster Governance in Small Urban Places: Issues, Trends, and Concerns
A growing number of scholars have heeded calls for an urban research agenda grounded partly in the experiences of small urban places. This chapter makes a similar appeal to disaster researchers who have developed frameworks for thinking about urban disasters based largely on the experiences of larger cities. Disaster risk is also growing rapidly in small urban places, far from centres of trade, culture, and politics. Governing disaster risk in small cities will be an essential part of managing Asia’s urban transition. I identify four unique characteristics of small cities important for disaster risk management. First, small cities are physically, politically, and culturally distant from capitals and other centres of power and influence. Second, small cities accumulate disaster risk in similar ways to larger urban centres, but without the attendant growth in infrastructure or governance capacity. Third, urbanization in smaller cities outpaces environmental learning. That is, the centres of environmental “memory” that are key to long-term risk governance may be absent. Finally, small cities often lack the redundancy that is the hallmark of resilient urban systems. I illustrate my arguments with evidence from three landslide-prone small cities in West Bengal, India. I conclude that more research is needed to understand what the growth of small cities means for disaster risk in rapidly urbanizing countries like India. Our conventional approaches to urban disaster risk management may be ineffective in smaller cities. The concept of disaster governance holds promise, however, because of its inclusion of a wider set of actors and institutions.
KeywordsDisaster governance West Bengal India Small cities Urbanization Landslides
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