From the past 3 weeks in class, we have been exposed to what is urbanisation and explored the myriad of negative impacts of urbanisation on our environment such as the urban heat island effect, light, water and air pollution and many more. However, after having a thought about what we have covered so far, I started to question:
Is urbanisation as bad on the environment as it seems to be?
I went to look into some literature to find if there are arguments with regards to any positive impacts of urbanisation on our environment. Here are some of my findings:
1) In the book The God Species by Mark Lynas (2011), Lynas put forth that through urbanisation, there can be more sustainable land use when people are living in a denser area. This means that overall, less of natural areas need to be converted into urban areas, thereby protecting the environment. As for the case of rural populations moving into denser cities, it also presents an opportunity to restore these rural landscapes into natural areas (Lynas, 2011).
However, we all have learnt that this is not the case for many cities around the world. The first example of living in denser areas is immediately countered by the example of urban sprawl. Urban areas are growing at a faster rate than population growth rate and more land is being used. In spite of this, I still find that it is invalid to immediately dismiss the benefits of urbanisation in terms of efficient land use and still have to agree with Lynas. I believe that urban sprawl is a problem of poor urban planning and if governments are able to plan effectively, they will be able to restrict the amount of land use. Then, cities will be able to be able to use land more efficiently (although this may be difficult).
2) Living in a denser area also allows some industries to reap economies of scale (Dodman, 2009; Lynas, 2011). One example would be that it is cheaper and use fewer resources when providing electricity and infrastructure in bulk.
3) Dodman (2009) also presented the fact that urbanisation allows for more efficient resource use. For example, the close proximity of homes to workplaces in a city can facilitate the use of greener transport options such as cycling, walking, taking public transport instead of driving to work. However, this is will only work for areas nearer to the core central business district as cycling and walking from further areas may not be feasible, and that public transport system in a city may not expand all the way to the edges of the city where some people are living.
4) Urbanisation creates cities, which are centres for innovation and education because talent pools are concentrated (Grimm et. al., 2008). This provides the potential to find solutions to human’s future problems (and maybe even solutions to environmental problems).
5) Initially, I had the idea that urbanisation is negative because cities have high ecological footprint. However, I realised that urbanisation is just ‘the process by which a rural area becomes an urban one’ (Gaston, 2011). It is not the process of urbanisation that is bad but the result of the unsustainable use of resources by people living within the cities that results in the high carbon footprint of cities.
Overall, we cannot argue that urbanisation does not have any benefits. Although the negative impacts of urbanisation on our environment are currently looking to outweigh the positive ones, I believe that with proper urban planning, it is definitely possible to reduce the impacts of urbanisation on our environment.
Dodman, D. (2009). Blaming cities for climate change? An analysis of urban greenhouse gas emissions inventories. Environment and Urbanization, 21(1), 185-201.
Gaston, K, Ed (2010) Urban Ecology. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge, UK
Grimm, N. B., Faeth, S. H., Golubiewski, N. E., Redman, C. L., Wu, J., Bai, X., & Briggs, J. M. (2008). Global change and the ecology of cities. Science, 319(5864), 756-760.
Lynas, M. (2011) The God Species: How Humans Really Can Save the Planet. London: Fourth Estate. 280p.