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
- 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
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
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.
Photo Credit: U.S. Bureau of Public Roads