Acta Geographica Sinica ›› 2015, Vol. 70 ›› Issue (2): 234-247.doi: 10.11821/dlxb201502005

• Orginal Article • Previous Articles     Next Articles

A comprehensive assessment of urban vulnerability and its spatial differentiation in China

Chuanglin FANG1, Yan WANG1,2   

  1. 1. Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, CAS, Beijing 100101, China
    2. University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
  • Received:2013-12-06 Revised:2014-12-24 Online:2015-02-20 Published:2015-02-20
  • Supported by:
    National Natural Science Foundation of China, No.41371177


Urban vulnerability refers to the coping capacity necessary to resist disturbances from various internal or external natural factors and human factors, such as available resources, ecological environmental systems, economic and social development, during an urban development process. A city that has an anti-disturbance capacity below a certain threshold level is considered vulnerable. The concept of urban vulnerability comprehensively reflects urban resource vulnerability, eco-environmental vulnerability, economic vulnerability, and social vulnerability. Research on the assessment and regulatory control of urban vulnerability is of great significance for both urbanization quality improvement and sustainable development in China. In this study, using systematic analyses combined with a comprehensive index assessment method, we selected 10 subindexes involving 36 specific parameters from four aspects (resources, eco-environmental systems, economics, and social development) to construct a comprehensive index system for the assessment of China's urban vulnerability. In addition, the standard values of measurements were established and used to evaluate overall urban vulnerability and its spatial differentiation among cities at the prefecture level and above in China. This study revealed that China's urban vulnerability demonstrates a "grade-difference" based differentiation and overall vulnerability is moderate. The differences in the extent of China's urban vulnerability were divided into five grades: low vulnerability, relatively low vulnerability, moderate vulnerability, relatively high vulnerability, and high vulnerability. Urban vulnerability has a remarkable spatial differentiation of both "gradient distribution" and "clustered distribution", as demonstrated by the facts that cities in eastern China are significantly less vulnerable than those in the central and western regions and the cities with low vulnerability are distributed in the form of agglomeration, which fits the urban agglomerations in China well. The extent of urban vulnerability corresponds to city size, and the bigger the city, the lower its vulnerability. Resource-based cities are more vulnerable than comprehensive cities, and cities with higher functional comprehensiveness have relatively low vulnerability. In addition, a city's economic growth rate does not reflect the extent of its urban vulnerability; in other words, high-speed economic growth does not necessarily indicate low urban vulnerability. The purpose of this study was to address how to scientifically assess overall urban vulnerability and how to effectively cope with and reduce urban vulnerability. This study provides scientific evidence to enrich our understanding of urban vulnerability and sustainable development and to solve problems such as resource exhaustion, eco-environmental disruption, the transformation of economic growth mechanisms, and a series of other social issues that arise during urbanization and industrialization.

Key words: urban vulnerability, comprehensive measurement, spatial differentiation, sustainable development, China