2 URBAN ECOLOGY Home Page Contents
1.2.1 Introduction The ecological impacts of human activity extend far beyond the areas in which they occur. Alteration of the environment due to urban development can have far ranging consequences on air quality, water quality, biodiversity and natural resources. The Land management basic aim of sustainable urban management is to reduce the ecological costs of today’s activities so that natural resources are able to renew themselves and remain Urban ecology available for the use and enjoyment of future generations. Achieving this goal will Water management require a fundamental transition from a “business as usual,” reactive way of management to a bio-centric, proactive approach. Researchers and policy makers in Waste management the European Union are developing creative and innovative ways to address environmental degradation and ecological fragmentation due to urbanisation. These Alternative energy include strategies to reduce habitat destruction, conserve natural resources, and Mobility and transport provide communities with cleaner and more enjoyable urban environments. Today’s model of urban expansion can be characterized as inadequately managed urban sprawl. It has not occurred in the absence of public oversight, but the instruments available to manage it have not effectively controlled its growth and prevented major adverse impacts from occurring to the natural environment. This Capacity building for sustainable may be due to conflicting goals and objectives between levels or departments of development government. Fundamentally, the conflict can often be reduced to one of economic Economy and finance growth versus environmental protection. This model of development should be replaced by a more coordinated and effective model based on growth management and sustainable development that minimises negative environmental effects (1).
Employment creation


Demography Security Urban health

Accessibility for special needs
Income Gender justice Social integration

1.2.2 Inadequately managed urban sprawl Urban sprawl, the rapid expansion of housing, commercial and industrial development across the countryside at lower densities than that which prevails in traditional cities and towns, has taken hold in Europe. The freedom of movement provided by today’s transport network has been a key factor in promoting urban sprawl. More farms, forest, natural areas and open space have yielded to urban development in the last fifty years than at any other time in history, and this loss of natural land area is often irreversible. Urban sprawl exacerbates environmental problems such as air and water pollution, waste generation, energy consumption, water scarcity, loss of habitats and global warming. The economic costs of building new areas are also a major burden on society. For example, the establishment of a new industrial park in a rural area requires infrastructure improvements such as roads, power supply, and waste disposal. The residential development which follows will in turn prompt the construction of services including commercial facilities, schools, parks, etc. Many of these costs are borne by the public sector. Urban sprawl should be considered not only in terms of its impact on the immediate environment, but in terms of its regional impacts as well (2).

1.2.3 Causes of urban sprawl The driving forces of urban sprawl are diverse and complex. They include: lower land prices in areas outside urbanized areas than in central cities; growth in personal income; large scale investments in transportation infrastructure enabling workers to live at greater distances from their place of employment; a desire to live in green areas; land owners in rural areas “cashing in” on the trend of increasing rural development; the dispersal of employment centres to outlying areas; the in-migration of low income workers willing to accept lower wages for menial labour and to live in the marginal housing of the older cities; and in general, the trend toward the globalisation of markets. While many of the factors that promote urban sprawl derive from economic forces, all of them can be addressed to some extent by policy makers and planners (2). 1.2.4 Effects of urban sprawl New urban development entails more than simply constructing buildings and paving roads. Electrical power, police services, waste collection and disposal, road maintenance, health facilities and emergency response are among the requirements of new development. These services do not appear overnight but are incremental in their development as is the overall growth of development and population. Residential development requires commercial services, access to employment sites, schools and recreational activities. Industrial sites require access to transport, power and the availability of a labour force. This highlights the need for planning and programming of public improvements so that the services become available as needed by the growing population. Public transportation systems are essential for any city to function efficiently and effectively, allowing for the movement of its residents to diverse destinations while minimizing the environmental impacts associated with automobile utilization. However, urban sprawl does not support alternative modes of transportation such as mass transit and bicycles, promoting instead reliance on personal modes of transportation. The outcome is increasing traffic congestion and air pollution, more road accidents, loss of worker productivity and the decline in revenues for public transit. As urban areas disperse over the landscape, pressure increases on the public sector to fund expensive transportation capacity improvements. Increased air pollution due to transportation sources typically follows the development of low-density, peripheral settlements as the proportion of commuting workers increases. This not only increases local air pollution, but also increases the emission of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. Construction of impermeable surfaces such as roads, sidewalks, parking areas, and buildings reduces the recharge of ground water and aggravates the run-off of rainwater carrying pollutants such as tire residue, engine oil and other automotive liquids, litter, heavy metals, etc. into rivers and streams. Mediterranean coastal areas are of special concern. These areas saw a 10% increase in impervious structures during the 1990’s alone (1). Water stress in this region is especially high and the projected growth in urban populations only intensifies concerns over pressure on water supplies. The bulk of humanity is concentrated within less than 400km of coastal areas, and almost 4 in 5 Europeans live in urban areas where 60% overexploit their available water resources. Urban expansion negatively affects wildlife. As natural areas are encroached upon by higher density development, wildlife habitats are fragmented and wildlife find their territory severed by roads and highways. Traversing these obstacles may prove to be fatal to species as conflicts with humans and vehicles take their toll. Reducing these habitats and migration corridors may have severe effects on wildlife. As wildlife adapts, natural systems change in unpredictable ways, leading to potentionally disastrous changes in the local ecology, flows of energy and nutrient cycles (2). Urban sprawl also has a social dimension. Populations redistribute themselves in disproportionate ways. Those moving away from high density urban areas into lower density, greener areas tend to be the more affluent who can afford to live in these areas. At the same time, lower income groups converge towards the centre of cities where housing prices are lower. Inner city areas often became characterized by

poverty, crime, abandoned businesses, and litter. Such areas are also magnets for migrants seeking employment and a better life. This chain of events can lead to a breakdown in community integration, security and stability, with long-term negative affects on government trust. As Europe moves into further integration with new member states, its cities must take into account how their land-use policies and priorities can affect the ecology of human relations as well as the natural environment. This presents planners with a considerable problem – how to balance social equality with urban development. 1.2.5 Growth management and sustainable development Consistent and coordinated goals and policies are necessary at the EU level as well as at the country, regional and city levels in order to overcome the inadequately managed urban sprawl patterns of the recent past. Economic objectives should be carefully balanced with the need to protect the environment. A comprehensive programme should include realistic goals, an agreed upon plan of action, and reasonable benchmarks to evaluate progress. The plan should be modified periodically in order to account for changing conditions or new information. Areas designated for future growth should be clearly delineated and other areas should be set aside for the protection of natural resources, habitats and agriculture. The main tools that planners have available are the regulation of the type and density of land usage, and the planning and construction of infrastructure improvements. These are the basic instruments to implement growth management plans, but coordination with other policies and programmes is also needed. Cities and regions should prepare economic development programmes that are consistent with urban development and transportation improvement programmes. Likewise, the provision of urban services such as water supply, sewage disposal, schools and recreation areas should occur in areas planned for development, and be timed to coincide with that development and withheld from those areas that are slated to remain undeveloped. Many cities in Europe have actively begun to pursue measures to increase urban appeal (urbanism) and decrease inefficient, non-sustainable urban expansion/sprawl (urbanization). Strategies of ‘creative control’ have become a mainstay of policy for controlling the drivers of urban sprawl. These strategies encourage sustainable use of areas surrounding cities and within cities to not only conserve resources, but to increase the attractiveness of urban living. This implies rejuvenating cities and enriching urban environments (1). This approach has found favour in many countries, most notably the Netherlands, which has extremely dense populations. This has been accomplished, in conjunction with transportation innovations and other strategies, by incorporating city and ecological systems into a holistic structure. Urban environments are increasingly being seen not as separate from the natural environment, but as positive and sustainable pieces of it. 1.2.6 Principles of urban ecology Cities have been built on areas that were once natural, with trees, waterways and meadows that supported diverse ecological communities. Some of those natural features have survived the spread of concrete. Waterways such as streams, wetlands, lakes and canals cannot be built upon (although some cities have drained wetlands and lakes, and have enclosed rivers and streams in concrete conduits) so they remain a bastion of greenery and tranquillity where vegetation, wildlife and human development can co-exist in harmony. Occasionally, active farms have been by-passed in the growth process and continue their operations, surrounded by housing developments and commercial areas. Other green spaces have been purposely set aside, providing valuable aesthetic, recreational and educational opportunities for people and habitat for wildlife. Today, urban environments are the home of plants, insects and wildlife as well as humans. By assessing the distinct characteristics of the urban environment, an understanding of urban ecology emerges. Urban ecological communities often have distinct characteristics from their rural counterparts. They have, over time, adapted to the presence of concentrated human activities and structures and have modified their behaviour. For example, some species that traditionally hunted or foraged during daylight hours have taken on more nocturnal habits to fit their urban

environments and avoid human contact (3). However, not all wildlife may adapt to urban life with the same ease. Small birds, for instance, are able to adapt to urban environments more easily than larger species. This is related to the availability of food. Fragmentation of green areas due to urbanization has varying effects on larger mammals. As urban environments extend into less developed areas, further contact with wildlife is more likely – bringing with it higher probabilities of conflict. The immediate losers in such cases are the wildlife and the long-term losers are communities that are devoid of natural resources. Today, many people have come to realize that living in a city need not exclude experiencing the joys of nature. Cities in many countries have taken positive steps to restore the ambiance of natural systems within their urban boundaries. They strive to become ecological cities, in which their human and natural populations live in harmonious balance. One method is through the provision of more trees and green spaces. Trees and greenery provide more than just aesthetic appeal and space for recreation. They also serve vital ecological functions. Trees provide shade and cool the air. They provide habitat for numerous species of birds, insects and other wildlife. They clean the air, absorbing into tiny pores in their leaves air pollutants that are broken down into less harmful substances during photosynthesis. By absorbing atmospheric carbon dioxide, storing the carbon and releasing the oxygen back into the atmosphere, trees help to replenish the air and also counteract the release into the atmosphere of greenhouse gases, which have been associated with global warming. Carbon dioxide is the leading type of greenhouse gas, most of which is produced by industries, heating systems and transport networks of modern cities. By accumulating in the upper atmosphere, this and other harmful gases prevent hot air from rising, thus trapping it near the earth’s surface. This, in turn, has led to a gradual warming of average temperatures which can eventually cause drastic changes in global climatic patterns (3). New concepts in urban design are incorporating natural elements and the better integration of humans with their environments. Wildlife and greenery have immeasurable value for society. Not only do they help mitigate many of the environmental problems associated with urban living, but they also have a very substantial economic impact. Green spaces and contact with wildlife also have health benefits, such as reducing stress and promoting exercise. Finally, the presence of parks and other natural landscapes increases real-estate value and neighbourhood bonds. An example is green roof technology that extends the existing roof with trees and shrubs cultivated in a light-weight growing medium. This technology offers many quality of life benefits: conserving water and energy, reducing temperatures in environments of asphalt and concrete, and creating green oases in urban centres using very little space. This is confirmed by the “Green Roofs Project,” a study of green roof activities in Toronto, Canada that has found positive environmental and social benefits from the use of green roofs. The study, undertaken by Ryerson University, praised green roofs as a particularly effective strategy to address several environmental conditions facing urban centres, including management of storm water runoff and pollution mitigation. Precipitation is stored in vegetated roof material, greatly reducing water flow to impermeable surfaces below. The study estimated that the installation of approximately 5,000 hectares (on roofs larger than 350 square meters) could save the city an estimated $39 million (Can) in pollutant and erosion control, and an additional $46 million (Can) from reduced water storage costs. While the costs of installing green roof systems are above the costs of traditional methods and materials, the positive environmental, infrastructure and social benefits exceed that of conventional practices (4).

In addition to improving the environment, green roofs can be used as microfarms for food production to generate income and supplement local food budgets. Rooftop gardens take advantage of the abundant supplies of sunlight and carbon dioxide that not only help garden crops grow, but enhance their flavour. And while these plants thrive on the carbon dioxide, they help improve the quality of life for city dwellers by removing this deadly pollutant from the surrounding air. There are numerous examples of green roofs being adapted for this purpose, providing income from such crops as tomatoes, alfalfa, and lentils and supporting local urban economies. The design of verandas and terraces is another way to enhance the quality of life in urban areas, where greenery is limited and the built environment encroaches on natural areas to a great degree. Research has shown that a significant reduction in water quality and aquatic life occurs when more than 10% of watershed areas are covered with impervious surfaces. As a transition between indoor and outdoor space, these small green oases provide mini habitats for local flora and fauna, and add an aesthetic dimension to public space that harmoniously integrates the built environment with the surrounding landscape. In this regard, they can be a bridge to the sustainability and liveability of intensely shared urban environments, whether in older buildings or new developments. Clean Water Services, Slow the Flow! Designing the Built Environment to Protect Urban Watersheds, Oregan, July 2004. 1.2.7 References 1. European Environmental Agency, Urban Sprawl in Europe: the Ignored Challenge, Report No. 10/2006, http://reports.eea.europa.eu 2. Alberti, Booth and Hill, Marzluff, The Impact of Urban Planning on Ecosystem Dynbamics, Urban Research Initiative: NSF Proposal 1999-2002 3. Schaefer, V., Rudd, H. and J. Vala. 2002. Urban Biodiversity: Exploring Natural Habitat and its Value in Cities. Douglas College Centre for Environmental Studies & Urban Ecology, New Westminster, BC www.psat. wa.gov/Publications/03_proceedings/PAPERS/ORAL/2c_schae.pdf 4. Doshi, D. Report on the Environmental Benefits and Costs of Green Roof Technology for the City of Toronto. Report for City of Toronto and Ontario Centres for Excellence, 2005. http://www.toronto.ca/greenroofs /findings.htm 5. http://www.ci.sherwood.or.us/temp_news/resource_docs/slow_flow.pdf back to top

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful