Over the past decades, the percentage of global urban population has grown from 30 % in 1950 to 54 % in 2014 (UN, 2015a), which has resulted in an increase in urban area even exceeding population growth rates (Seto et al., 2011). Projections indicate that this trend is likely to persist (Seto et al., 2012), and even accelerate in some regions of the world (UN, 2015b).
These urbanization trends are expected to have a considerable effect on biodiversity (Seto et al., 2012), water quality, and urban microclimate (Foley et al., 2005). Another important consequence of urban expansion is the loss and displacement of fertile farmland - often located in proximity to urban areas - with significant implications for food security (Shi et al., 2016).This case study aims at developing the systems thinking skills in students by helping them analyze the relationship between changes in population growth patterns and development policies and regulations, and the effect on the biophysical environment. Students will furthermore evaluate the importance of scale of analysis by transferring the findings of global and regional studies to the county level and understanding the importance of local policy drivers. This case study consists of four modules: (1) conceptualizing urban areas as socio-ecological systems, (2) analyzing historic farmland loss and developing urbanization scenarios, (3) analyzing alternative urbanization futures, and (4) communicating urbanization findings. Each module is designed as a 4-6 hours work package. Students work in small groups of ideally 3-5 members. At least one computer (with admin rights) per group is required.
- Understand the structure and behavior of socio-environmental systems
- Consider the importance of scale and context in addressing socio-environmental problems
- Find, analyze, and synthesize existing data, concepts, or methods