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Chapter 26 
Urban Environments 
 

LEARNING OBJECTIVES  

     Because the world is becoming increasingly urbanized, it is important to learn how to improve urban environments, to make cities more pleasant and healthier places in which to live and to reduce undesirable effects on their environments.  This section should foster your understanding of information presented in the text about the following: 

  • How to view a city from an ecosystem perspective.
  • What features are important to a city's environmental site and geographic situation and the types of geographic situations that are desirable.
  • How cities have changed with changes in technology and with ideas about city planning.
  • How cities change their own environment and affect the environment of the surrounding areas and how we can plan cities to minimize some of these effects.
  • How cities can be designed to promote biological conservation and become pleasant environments for people.   

A CLOSER LOOK - An Environmental History of Cities. 

The Rise of Towns 

     The first cities emerged on the landscape thousands of years ago during the New Stone Age with the development of agriculture, which provided the excess of food resources that is necessary for the maintenance of a city.  In this stage, the city's size was restricted by the primitive transportation methods that bought food and necessary resources into the city and removed waste.   

The Urban Center 

     In the second stage, more efficient transportation made possible the development of much larger urban centers, with a totally urban social core.  Boats, barges, canals, and wharves, as well as roads, horses, carriages, and carts, made it possible for cities to be located farther from agricultural areas.  In the second stage, the internal size of a city was limited by pedestrian travel.  The city could be no larger in area than the distance a worker could walk back and forth to and from work.  These cities never exceeded a population of 1 million. 

The Industrial Metropolis 

     The modern industrial revolution allowed greater modification of the environment than had been possible before.  Two technological advances that had significant effects on the city environment are improved sanitation methods, which have led to the control of many diseases, and modern transportation methods.  These changes increase the urban dweller's sense of separateness from their natural environment.   

     In some cities, the negative effects of urban sprawl are leading many people back to the urban center or to the development of smaller, satellite cities surrounding the central city.  The drawbacks of suburban commuting and the destruction of the landscape in suburbs have brought new appeal to the city center. 
       
The Center of Civilization 

     We are at the beginning of a new stage in the development of cities.  With modern telecommunications, people can work at home or long distances apart.  Perhaps, as telecommunication frees us from the necessities of certain kinds of commercial travel and related activities, the city can become a cleaner, more pleasing center of civilization.   

     An optimistic future for cities requires a continued abundance of energy and material resources, which are certainly not guaranteed, and wise use of these resources.  If energy resources are rapidly depleted, modern mass transit may fail.  Fewer people will be able to live in suburbs and cities will become more crowded.  Reliance on coal and wood will increase air pollution.  The continued destruction of the land within and near cities could compound transportation problems, making local production of food impossible.  The future of our cities depends on our ability to plan and to conserve and use our resources wisely. 
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Photo Credit: U.S. Bureau of Public Roads

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