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Project team:

Lehn, Helmut (Project leader), Klaus-Rainer Bräutigam, Christian Büscher, Juliane Jörissen, Jürgen Kopfmüller (Project leader), Volker Stelzer

Start date:


End date:


Research group:

Sustainability and environment

Project description


Urbanization is one of the central phenomena of global development with some immense changes. Since 2008 more than 50% of the world´s population live in cities. In metropolitan regions and large metropolises, not only the dimensions of quantitative growth, the high concentration of people, infrastructures, capital and economic power is new, but also the synchronicity / concurrency, complexity and overlapping of most different processes. Thus, these cities increasingly become a habitat offering both risks and chances. Due to its speed, extent and world-wide impacts, urbanization is a driving force of global change. Its specific dynamic makes megacities and inhabitants both cause the linked phenomena and be affected by them.

Mega-urbanization does not only require new concepts but also new technologies. Metropolitan regions are particularly challenged regarding environmental technologies, public and individual transport, telecommunication, water and energy supply as well as the waste and waste water management. The German-Chilean initiative of the Helmholtz Association elaborated strategies for a more sustainable development in megacities and mega urban agglomerations between 2005 and 2010. These strategies are based on a solid theoretical base.

Special focus and concept

The research initiative laid its focus on the "mature" megacities in Latin America, where the processes of urbanization have proceeded broadly - different to the situation in Asia. The case study was Santiago de Chile. Despite its proceeded development, this metropolitan region suffers from typical megacity problems such as high air pollution, social injustice, lack of energy and water). The initiative developed an integrative research approach. Due to the intense cooperation with the partners in Santiago, the concept´s coherence and applicability to Santiago could be optimized. Important for the choice of Santiago as a case study has been its excellent research infrastructure, as well as the fact, that the Headquarters of the "Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean" of the UN (ECLAC/CEPAL) is located in Santiago. The cooperation with its "Division of Sustainable Development and Human Settlements" has always been very intense and assured that results were constantly evaluated regarding their relevance and transferability to other megacities.

The research initiative developed and applied an integrative research approach. Therefore, the Integrative Concept of Sustainable Development of the German Helmholtz Association - mainly developed by ITAS (Institute of Technical Assessment and Systems Analysis) - served as a basis to develop targets for a sustainable metropolitan area. These targets were developed by means of appropriate indicators for 7 fields of application. Against this background the most important current deficits regarding sustainability were identified and analyzed in scenario considerations up to 2030. Based on this, suggestions were elaborated for appropriate strategies to improve the situation. These suggestions were presented in the ongoing debates and activities for a sustainable strategy in the metropolitan area and adequate planning instruments. Researchers and stakeholders in Santiago worked together with the project partners of the Helmholtz Association. In the initiative, more than 20 graduate students as well as numerous students about to take their diploma or masters were involved. Therefore, particularly, the initiative was awarded the status of a UN-Decade-Project "Education for Sustainable Development" in 2009. ITAS was responsible for the fields of "sustainable development", "risk", "waste management", "energy systems", "water - resources and services" as well as the development and application of the scenario method.

Participating organizations

Partners in Latin America:

Partner of the Helmholtz Association:


The important results of the Helmholtz program initiative were published (in condensed form) in the broschure "How sustainable is Santiago de Chile":

Kopfmüller, J.; Lehn, H.; Nuissl, H.; Krellenberg, K.; Heinrichs, D.
Sustainable development of megacities: An integrative research approach for the case of Santiago Metropolitan Region. Die Erde 140(2009)4, S. 417-448

Krellenberg, K.; Kopfmüller, J.; Barton, J.
How sustainable is Santiago? Current performance - future trends - potential measures. Synthesis Report of the Risk Habitat Research Initiative. Leipzig: Helmholtz-Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ (2010)4, 26 S. (Report)
Volltext engl. / pdf Volltext span. / pdf



Dr. Helmut Lehn
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)
Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS)
P.O. Box 3640
76021 Karlsruhe