Abandonment, ecological assembly and public health risks in counter-urbanizing cities

Alexandra Gulachenski, Bruno M. Ghersi, Amy E. Lesen, Michael J. Blum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Urban landscapes can be transformed by widespread abandonment from population andeconomic decline. Ecological assembly, sometimes referred to as "greening", following abandonmentcan yield valuable ecosystem services, but also can pose a risk to public health. Abandonment canelevate zoonotic vector-borne disease risk by favoring the hyperabundance of commensal pests andpathogen vectors. Though greater biodiversity in abandoned areas can potentially dilute vector-bornepathogen transmission, "greening" can elevate transmission risk by increasing movement of pathogenvectors between fragmented areas and by giving rise to novel human-wildlife interfaces. Idled andderelict infrastructure can further elevate disease risk from vector-borne and water-borne pathogens,which can build up in stagnant and unprotected water that maintenance and routine use of delivery orsanitation systems would otherwise eliminate. Thus, framing "greening" as inherently positive couldresult in policies and actions that unintentionally exacerbate inequalities by elevating risks ratherthan delivering benefits. As counter-urbanism is neither a minor pattern of urban development, nora short-term departure from urban growth, homeowner and municipal management of abandonedareas should account for potential hazards to reduce health risks. Further socioecological assessmentsof public health risks following abandonment could better ensure the resilience and well-being ofcommunities in shrinking cities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-26
Number of pages26
JournalSustainability (Switzerland)
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Biodiversity
  • Coupled natural human ecosystem dynamics
  • Dilution effect
  • Ecosystem services
  • Emerging infectious disease
  • Environmental justice

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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