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Urbanization and Environment Research Paper

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Urbanization is the process in which “an increasing proportion of an entire population lives in cities and the suburbs of cities” (Wagner 24). Urbanization is considered to be one of the major outcomes of industrialization. The process of industrialization led to the use of inanimate sources of energy and new tools for production in the pre-modern world economy. Consequently, there were surpluses in the agricultural and industrial sectors of the world economy.

The producers had to look for markets to sell their surplus produce. This led to the development of marketplaces and small urban areas which eventually became centers of commerce and industrial production (Wagner 27). In this regard, urbanization can be described as the increase in human population in discrete areas, thereby causing a change in land use in favor of residential, commercial and industrial purposes. According to Warren, nearly half of the world population lived in urban areas in 2008 (105-106).

Moreover, 70% of the world population is expected to live in urban areas by the year 2050 (Warren 105-106). In the last three decades, cities and towns have become the main habitats of mankind due to social and economic changes. Even though urban centers cover less than 5% of the total land area on earth, they have significant ecological footprint (Malik and Grohmann 78).

This implies that any form of uncontrolled urbanization can have severe environmental effects. The rapid exhaustion of the world’s natural resources is mainly attributed to urban development. Thus, sustainable urbanization can only be achieved if the environmental effects of urban developed are reduced. It is against this backdrop that this paper discuses the approaches that can be used to achieve urban development with minimal harmful effects on the environment.

Causes of Urbanization

Before embarking on an in-depth discussion of how urbanization can be achieved in an eco-friendly manner, a brief explanation of its causes and effects is in order. By clearly understanding the causes of urbanization, city planners and environmentalist can formulate appropriate policies to alleviate the negative effects of urban development. In this regard, the following factors are the main causes of urbanization.

First, urbanization takes place as individuals, business entities and governmental organizations attempt to reduce the time and the financial resources that are spent in order to access basic services (Malik and Grohmann 53). Most governments often promote the development of urban centers in order to enable their citizens to access basic services such as education and healthcare.

Similarly, business organizations often provide services such as banking, transportation and consultancy in urban areas. Providing these services in urban centers is often cheaper than providing them in rural areas. This is because the consumers of these services are usually located in one area in the urban centers. Thus, reaching them is easier and cheaper.

Second, urbanization normally takes place as people migrate to cities and towns in search of economic opportunities. In most countries, the rural populations often relocate to cities in order to improve their socio-economic conditions. Most businesses that create well paying jobs are often located in urban centers.

Similarly, research and development centers are usually located in large urban areas where electricity, transport infrastructure, security and water are available. Thus, cities and towns tend to have more job opportunities than rural areas (Malik and Grohmann 54).

In this context, job seekers often migrate from the rural areas to the urban centers in order to find better jobs. In emerging economies, people normally relocate to urban centers in order to start or to improve their businesses. The rationale of this move is that the demand for commodities and consumer goods is always higher in urban centers than in rural areas. Consequently, conducting business in urban centers is more profitable than in rural areas.

Third, urbanization occurs due to rapid population growth in the rural areas. In the last decade, improved healthcare and nutrition has led to high fertility rates, especially, in the least developed countries. As a result, most developing countries lack adequate land in their rural areas to support agriculture or food production. Consequently, agricultural communities have had to move to cities and towns with the aim of finding alternative economic activities (Wagner 64).

In the twenty first century, modern governments have focused on constructing new cities in order to promote efficient use of the available land. Concisely, cities cover a small land area; however, they can accommodate thousands of people. In this regard, relocating rural populations to cities enables governments to access adequate land in their rural areas for food production.

Finally, urban centers are administrative units through which governments serve their citizens (Wagner 72). Most cities in Africa and Asia began as administrative units which acted as the local headquarters of their colonial masters.

After gaining independence, most African and Asian countries focused on providing administrative services such as security and registration of persons in urban centers. This system can still be seen in the contemporary society. Nearly every country in the world has a capital city which is essentially the headquarters of its government.

Environmental Effects of Urbanization

Cities and towns contribute over 70% of the greenhouse gases that are emitted in various parts of the world (Williams 217-232). Human activities such as manufacturing goods have significantly increased air pollution through the emission of greenhouse gases.

This problem has been exacerbated by the fact that water bodies and vegetation in most cities have lost their capacity to absorb the greenhouse gases. The environmental problems in urban areas have been on the rise due to the increased use of non-renewable sources of fuel for industrial production and transportation.

Affluence and consumerism have led to a high demand for consumer products across the globe, thereby increasing environmental pressures (Williams 217-232). In least developed countries, cities are characterized by uncontrolled development and rapid population growth. Consequently, the demand for housing and consumer goods has tremendously increased in these countries. Construction of new houses often leads to the destruction of the vegetation which is expected to absorb the greenhouse gases.

These gases are responsible for the climate changes that have been witnessed in different parts of the world. For example, natural calamities such as floods and landslides regularly occur in most cities. Apart from air pollution, most urban areas are characterized by high noise levels. The main sources of noise in these areas include aircrafts, industrial production and construction activities. The effects of high noise levels on city residents include sleep disturbance, stress, loss of hearing and increased anxiety.

Energy consumption in urban areas is one of the major causes of heat islands. Heat islands occur due to the fact that the rate at which rural areas radiate heat into the atmosphere is at least twice as high as the rate in cities (Warren 105-106). Thus, cities are warmer than rural areas because they are associated with high energy consumption and low heat radiation. The use of energy for purposes such as cooking, transportation and generation of electricity in urban areas is much higher than in rural areas.

For example, the per capita consumption of coal in Chinese cities is at least three times more than the consumption in rural areas (Li, Liu and McKinnell 354-364). Heat islands usually trap atmospheric pollutants, thereby causing cloudiness and fog. It also causes high precipitation, thunderstorms and hailstorms in cities. Empirical studies show that city residents are increasingly becoming vulnerable to disasters such as floods and landslides due to climate change.

Urban development also causes water pollution. Waste management is normally a serious challenge in large cities, especially, in the least developed countries. In these cities, untreated solid wastes are often disposed in dumpsites. Eventually, these wastes contaminate groundwater sources.

In some cases, industrial wastes are discharged directly into water bodies such as rivers and lakes. These pollutants normally contaminate water, thereby causing the death of aquatic animals such as fish (Williams 217-232). The use of water from the contaminated water bodies often cause diseases such as diarrhea in cities.

Finally, urban development usually interferes with the course of rivers and streams. Real estate developers prefer to construct houses along the coastline or river banks. These areas are attractive to most real estate developers due to their scenic features.

However, urban developments in these areas usually lead to the destruction of riparian vegetation and alteration of stream channels (Suileman, Aguda and Farinde 213-216). For example, the construction of a dam to supply water in an urban area can alter the hydrology of a river and cause destruction to physical habitats. The environmental effects of urbanization are expected to increase if remedial measures are not taken at the right time.

Urban Development and Environmental Conservation

The discussion on the causes and the effects of urbanization reveals two facts. First, urbanization is a very important phenomenon in the contemporary world because it drives economic development. In a nutshell, urban areas are characterized with better living conditions and economic opportunities than rural areas.

Second, urbanization is associated with severe environmental effects which threaten its sustainability. Consequently, city planners and environmentalists must formulate and implement policies that can facilitate sustainable urban development. In this regard, the following measures can be adopted in order to achieve sustainable urban development and to protect the environment.

Land Use Planning

Land use planning helps in determining present and future land use patterns in urban areas. The main role of land use planning is to facilitate sustainable consumption of environmental resources, development of infrastructure and maintenance of public health and safety (Suileman, Aguda and Farinde 213-216). In this context, development of infrastructure refers to the construction of facilities such as roads, schools and hospitals, as well as, the process of creating jobs.

Environmental resources include parks, watersheds, wetlands and rivers among others. Maintaining pubic health and safety involves taking measures that can help us to cope with the effects of natural disasters such as floods and tropical storms. Urban planners must give priority to the protection and sustainable exploitation of the available environmental resources. Protection of these resources must be given priority due to the following reasons.

First, the process of developing infrastructure and ensuring public health and safety mainly depends on the quality and accessibility of the available natural resources. Second, long term damage to the natural environment has already occurred due to past land use decisions. Additionally, these effects are likely to increase in the future (Simonis 919-928). Finally, the implementation of undesirable land use decisions will lead to more environmental damages.

The resulting imbalance in the ecosystem and loss of natural resources will pose a serious threat to human civilization. Environmental resources can be protected through the ‘how to’ and the ‘where to’ strategies. The use of these strategies is based on the premise that ecological vision must be incorporated in future development plans in order to achieve sustainable urbanization. The two strategies can be explained as follows.

The ‘Where to’ Strategy

This strategy is essentially a selection process that enables urban planners to choose the best land for development (Simonis 919-928). This process ensures that areas of ecological importance are protected from urban development. The areas of ecological importance are essentially the places where the environmental resources that support various ecosystems are found.

The main objective of the ‘where to’ strategy is to enable urban planners, developers and governmental agencies to identify the important environmental resources that require protection from development (Simonis 919-928). The resources can be identified through the acquisition of knowledge about the environmental conditions of the areas in which urban development is expected to take place.

A variety of ecosystems can be found in different urban areas. The land use decisions that are made in such areas determine the ability of various ecosystems to provide the goods and services that are needed by the human population. Thus, the need to acquire adequate information about the environmental resources in a place becomes apparent.

Such information can help urban planners to make the right decisions in regard to land use and development. The environmental information should describe the topography, geology, vegetation and the wildlife of the area (Malik and Grohmann 235). In order to understand this information, a comprehensive environmental inventory must be created.

This inventory is essentially a collection of data that highlights the attributes of the environmental resources that can be found in an area that is being considered for urban development. The information that is contained in this inventory must be taken into account when land use decisions are being made. For instance, real estate development or industrial operations must be prohibited in important areas such as watersheds.

The ‘How to’ Strategy

The ‘how to’ strategy is implemented after the ideal land for development has been identified. It helps planners and developers to identify the best approaches to urban development. The first step of this strategy is concerned with the identification of the measures that must be taken in order to protect essential environmental resources.

The second step is concerned with the identification of the “types of developments on the available land that respect ecological diversity, environmental security, economic viability, human creativity and the sense of community” (Simonis 919-928). In this stage, urban planners, developers and designers are expected to use different planning approaches and sustainability standards such as smart growth and new urbanism in order to achieve sustainable urbanization.

Protecting Environmental Resources

Environmental resources must be protected from development. The characteristics of the resources determine the measures that can be applied to protect them. Thus, development can be prohibited completely in some areas. However, controlled urban development can be allowed in some regions.

Empirical studies indicate that a slope range of between 0.05 to 3% is suitable for any type of urban development (Malik and Grohmann 315). A slope range of between 20% and 25% is suitable for the construction of houses, whereas a slope range of between 4% and 5% is ideal for road construction (Malik and Grohmann 317). Generally, a piece of land whose slope exceeds 12 degrees should not be used for urban development. This is because such pieces of land have a high risk of soil erosion.

Similarly, development should be prohibited on pieces of land that are made up of organic and clay soils due to the following reasons. First, clay soils are associated with drainage problems. Besides, rapid subsidence usually occurs in clay soils. These problems are attributed to the fact that clay soils usually shrink and swell when the soil moisture changes. Second, organic soils should not be used for development because they support various species of plants.

According to Williams, water resources such as streams and lakes can be protected through buffer requirements (217-232). A buffer refers to a “transitional land between the natural resource and the land that is subject to development” (Williams 217-232).

Generally, streams and wetlands can be adequately protected by a buffer of approximately 200 meters. However, areas that are prone to natural disasters such as floods should not be used for urban development. Similarly, areas that host endangered animal and plant species should not be used for urban development.

Types of Development

The demand for environmental resources is often influenced by the lifestyle factors of the human population. In this regard, individuals should adopt lifestyles that are in harmony with the environment. In a nutshell, individuals should be aware of the environmental implications of their choices of residential areas, energy sources and production technologies.

According to Simonis, controlled development on environmentally sensitive areas should be based on an individual’s choice rather than regulation (919-928). This view is supported by Ogbonna, Amagabara and Ekere who assert that empowered and motivated communities are more likely to protect the environment than their regulated counterparts (71-88).

Resource Use in Urban Areas

Constructing compact cities whose infrastructure and facilities are well designed can help in reducing energy consumption by improving efficiency in transportation and production. The heat island effect is one of the major outcomes of high energy consumption in urban areas. There are several measures that can be used to control urban warming. Heat radiation in urban areas can be improved by changing the materials that are used to construct the roofs of buildings (Warren 105-106).

In addition, radiation can be improved by changing the spatial arrangement of buildings. Changing the materials is cost effective since it can be used on existing buildings. For instance, changing the materials that were used to construct the roof a building can eliminate the cost of constructing a new building. Generally, existing roof materials should be replaced with those that have high reflectivity.

Water consumption in urban areas can be reduced through measures that encourage exploitation of alternative water sources and reduction of water pollution. For instance, peak urban runoff can be reduced by constructing water detention ponds. Warren asserts that water detention ponds are beneficial since they eliminate the need to re-engineer city drainage systems in order to manage flash floods (105-106).

Moreover, the detention ponds prevent contaminated water from entering into water bodies such as lakes and rivers. A water detention pond with a large surface area can help in reducing the urban heat island effect through evaporation. Furthermore, the water in these ponds can be used for non-domestic purposes such as irrigating flower gardens in the urban areas. This leads to clean water conservation.

Urban Development and Environmental Conservation Policies

Sustainable urbanization must be based on effective policies that guide development and facilitate environmental conservation. In this regard, the government must collaborate with stakeholders such as developers, urban planners and city residents to formulate policies that guide urban development and conservation of the environment.

These policies are likely to be accepted by all stakeholders if they are formulated through consultation and consensus building initiatives. Moreover, the pubic must be sensitized on the regulations that govern urbanization in order to enhance compliance with the existing laws. The policies should specify the type and the scope of the development projects that are allowed in specific areas.

According to Warren, the type of development projects that are to be undertaken in an urban area must have the least harm on the existing ecological systems (105-106). In this regard, the choice of development projects should be informed by ethical considerations rather than pure economic rationality. Concisely, residential, commercial and industrial developments in urban areas must be regulated through policies that facilitate environmental conservation or protection.

Urban development policies must be used in conjunction with environmental conservation policies. The main objective of environmental protection policies is to control the behaviors that contribute to pollution and destruction of natural resources. Empirical studies indicate that nearly all governments have laws that promote or encourage environmental conservation.

However, most of these policies or regulations have failed to achieve their objectives. This failure is attributed to factors such as poor enforcement, loopholes in the environmental laws, ineffective judicial systems and corruption. In some cases, the high cost of monitoring the activities of urban development agencies discourages the governments from enforcing conservation laws (Sexena, Srivastava and Samaddar 308-323).

In response to this failure, Warren argues that conservation laws or policies should be based on the market system rather than government intervention (105-106). This means that the market system should give urban developers the incentive to undertake environment-friendly projects. Moreover, protecting the environment should not compromise urban development.

Thus, environmental regulation should be based on the principle that “polluters pay expenses, while cleaners make a profit” (Sexena, Srivastava and Samaddar 308-323). In this context, developers, producers and city residents are considered to be the polluters whose activities result into undesirable environmental outcomes. The cleaners, on the other hand, are the companies that are responsible for cleaning the environment in order to restore it to its pre-pollution condition.

The developers demand cleaning services such as the disposal of the debris which are produced at construction sites or treatment of industrial waste. The pollution purification services are supplied by the cleaners. The price paid by the polluters for the cleaning services is proportional to the amount of emission or waste that is released into the ambient environment.

Consequently, the market forces of demand and supply will help in setting the optimum price and level of pollution. In this case, the polluters will have the incentive to minimize pollution in order to reduce their expenditure on cleaning services. In some cases, the polluters are given the option of either cleaning the environment or paying the tax equivalent.

According to Wagner, pollution can be reduced significantly through these market based interventions (79). This premise is based on the fact that market based interventions give polluters the incentive to invest in technologies that promote efficiency and reduce pollution. Additionally, implementing them requires little intervention by the government. Thus, their implementation is cheap and easy.

Recent studies show that solid waste in urban areas can be reduced by privatizing environment-related industries. Such industries are made up of companies that engage in garbage disposal and treatment of solid wastes. Privatization helps in improving the efficiency and productivity of these companies. In developing countries where local governments and municipal authorities lack the capital to clean the environment, private companies should be allowed to provide the cleaning services (Ogbonna, Amagabara and Ekere 71-88).

Similarly, promoting foreign direct investments in the environment-related industries can facilitate improved waste management in developing countries. For instance, multinational companies that focus on energy production can transform the solid wastes into electricity. In this case, the benefit will be two fold. First, the country will benefit from a clean and reliable supply of energy. Second, the solid wastes will be eliminated in a cost effective manner.

The Role of Technology

Sustainable urban development can be achieved through efficient technologies. In particular, the technologies used in construction, transportation and production must focus on efficient use of the available resources (Keirstead 6-19). Similarly, they must focus on reducing reliance on non-renewable energy sources such as oil (Song, Wang and Jie 5-14). In this regard, there should be a shift from the use of oil propelled cars to hybrid and electric cars.

Additionally, efficient trains should be used in order to reduce pollution in major cities. Advanced construction technologies should be used to build high-rise apartments in order to reduce the pressure on the land that is available for development. Furthermore, destruction of vegetation and physical habitats can be reduced by replacing bungalows with high-rise apartments.

Food consumption in urban areas tends to be higher than in rural areas. Consequently, most countries have adopted a mechanized agricultural production system in rural areas in order to meet the demand for food in their urban centers. Even though mechanization has tremendously improved food production, it has also created new challenges in the urban areas.

This is because mechanized agriculture often exacerbates the problem of unemployment in the rural areas. The surplus labor often migrates to the urban areas in order to find alternative economic activities (Malik and Grohmann 211). This form of uncontrolled rural-urban migration is one of the major causes of informal settlements in cities and towns. This problem can be addressed by promoting labor-intensive farming and food production in the rural areas (Simonis 919-928).

This policy is likely to be effective in overpopulated countries such as China and India where availability of cheap labor can facilitate high food production. Improving food production in the countryside through labor-intensive agriculture has two benefits. First, there will be adequate food for both the urban and the rural populations. Second, the quality of life will improve in the countryside. The resulting reduction in rural-urban migration will slow the rate of urbanization and its negative effects on the environment.


Urbanization is the process through which an increasing number of a country’s citizens relocate to urban areas such as cities and towns. Urbanization has significantly increased in the last three decades due to rapid industrialization in the contemporary world economy. Generally, individuals relocate to urban areas in order to improve their standards of living. Furthermore, urban areas have become centers of commerce, industrial production and innovation (Malik and Grohmann 114).

Most governments provide their administrative services in urban areas in order to reduce costs. Despite these benefits, urbanization has caused severe environmental problems such as pollution, destruction of vegetation and depletion of natural resources. The negative effects of rapid urbanization can be addressed through policies that help us to identify the ideal places for urban development, and the type of projects that should be undertaken in the identified areas.

Furthermore, governmental agencies must formulate policies that promote urban development without jeopardizing environmental conservation efforts. In a nutshell environmental considerations must be taken into account in the process of development in order to achieve sustainable urbanization. This can be achieved by minimizing the effects of urban development on the environment.

Works Cited

Keirstead, Ames. “Applying Service Niche Indicators to London’s Energy System.” International Journal of Environmental Quality Management 1.4 (2010): 6-19. Print.

Li, Baizhan, Meng Liu and Ken McKinnell. “Impact of Urbanization on Building Energy Consumption and the Role of BEE Design Codes in China.” Property Management 24.3 (2006): 354-364. Print.

Malik, Abdul and Elisabeth Grohmann. Environmental Protection Strategies for Sustainable Development. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008. Print.

Ogbonna, Daniel, George Amagabara and Tom Ekere. “Urban Solid Waste Generation in Port Harcourt Metropolis and its Implications for Waste Management.” International Journal of Environmental Quality Management 18.1 (2007): 71-88. Print.

Sexena, Susan, Richard Srivastava and Anthony Samaddar. “Towards Sustainable Municipal Solid Waste Management in Allahadad City.” International Journal of Environment Quality Management 21.3 (2010): 308-323. Print.

Simonis, Udo. “Greening Urban Development: on Climate Change and Climate Policy.” International Journal of Social Economics 38.11 (2011): 919-928. Print.

Song, Malin, Shuhong Wang and Yang Jie. “Will Environmental Logistics be Promoted by Changing Industrial Structure?” International Journal of Supply Chain Management 17.1 (2012): 5-14. Print.

Suileman, Abdul-Azeez, Akinola Aguda and Tajudeen Farinde. “Spatio-Temporal Assessment of Urban Growth of Medium-Size and Nodal Towns for Sustainable Management.” International Journal of Environmental Quality Management 24.1 (2012): 213-216. Print.

Wagner, Luca. Urbanization: 21st Century Issues and Challenges. London: Oxford University Press, 2008. Print.

Warren, Clive. “Heat Islands: Understanding and Mitigating Heat in Urban Areas.” Property Management 30.1(2012): 105-106. Print.

Williams, Peter. “Managing Urbanization and Environmental Protection in Australian Cities: Approaches for Integrating Biodiversity and Urban Growth in Sydney.” International Journal of Law in the Built Environment 4.3 (2012): 217-232. Print.

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