Is an Urban Future Sustainable?
Globally, urbanization is growing increasingly common, and as it rapidly increases, the need for new infrastructure and urban planning to accommodate the rising population increases as well. However, urban areas are important factors contributing to greenhouse gas emission as an increase in population leads to an increase in consumption; there would be more resources used and more waste produced. Thus, smart urban planning must be applied to reduce carbon intensity and greenhouse gasses in urban areas, mitigating the dire environmental impacts caused by urbanization.
According to a director of environment and disaster management at WWF, “Urbanization itself is not responsible for the environmental threats facing the world. Unplanned and poorly managed urbanization is.” There is quite a significant difference between well planned and well managed urbanization and unplanned, poorly managed urbanization, for good urban planning is “climate-informed, strategic, integrated and supported across multiple sectors” while also including “environmental management and disaster risk reduction”. Ultimately, if a city is planned smartly, it has the potential to be environmentally friendly and not cause the damage and harm we usually think it does, leading to a greener future.
Urban areas: The problem
It is a common belief that the city brings jobs and opportunities for people aspiring to make a name for themselves or those looking for a better place; this belief is one of the many reasons why people are attracted to the city. Now, half of the population, globally, reside in cities. However, with such an abundance of people cramped up in relatively small spaces, problems are bound to occur; threats to the well-being of humans arise due to increasing population density. Competition between people arises due to scarcity as there are more people competing for jobs, food, and housing. Overall, there is greater consumption of resources, and as a result of consumption, waste is generated. There are greater levels of air pollution from concentrated energy use and larger volumes of solid domestic waste, increasing people’s exposure to toxic substances and environmental hazards . Fundamentally, urban areas are faced with poverty and environmental degradation.
All of the above occurs with poor city planning, and an excellent example of it is Jakarta, Indonesia. Due to poor planning, the city is constantly congested with extreme traffic and heavily polluted with fumes and toxic chemicals. The poor water supply and sewage system has earned Jakarta the title “world’s fastest sinking city” as polluted water drowns the city at an alarming rate. In addition to that, the lack of green and open spaces are not present to reduce harmful gas emissions and prevent extreme heat. Along with the poor systems, the deficiency of infrastructures that benefit the environment such as parks, green spaces, and alternative methods of transportation have ultimately contributed to the poor conditions in Jakarta.
What exactly is urban planning and how does urban planning create a greener future?
In essence, urban planning is the “design and regulation of the uses of space that focus on the physical form, economic functions, and social impacts of the urban environment and on the location of different activities within it”. It strategically allocates space and resources according to data collection and analysis, hoping to shape the environment in a way that promotes better health and social outcomes.
Urban planning helps to build a greener future as it provides solutions to solve environmental problems through the way in which the city is structured.
Firstly, by changing the transportation system of a city, it may increase its capacity for environmentally friendly and sustainable development, reducing air pollution and minimizing congestion. With better planned roads, people and goods are able to be transported more effectively, leading to less congestion and wasted time; thus, as automotive vehicles get stuck less on the road, the exhaust gas emitted decreases with less time on the road. In addition to that, the increased use of public transport and automotive vehicle alternatives can all together decrease the amount of emissions produced by transportation.
With more public transportation, there would be less numbers of single occupancy vehicles on the road, and as a result, there would be less quantities of pollutants emitted. Also, with less gas-emitting vehicles on the road, there would be less congestion; all in all, transportation becomes more effective. A newer concept is to administer car free streets and zones, which are areas where the only methods of transportation allowed are biking and walking. Subsequently, less amounts of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, would be emitted from fossil fuel based vehicles.
Another way cities may be restructured to become greener is through the construction and addition of parks, more specifically green and open spaces, as they reduce harmful carbon pollution and other gas emissions. Having a lack of parks in an urban city would hurt the environment since study shows that parks also protect people and infrastructure from increasingly severe storms, heat waves, droughts, and more. This occurs due to the trees and plants present that serve as carbon sinks and clean the air. In fact, according to the NRPA, “urban tree canopy in parks and along city streets is estimated to remove 711,000 metric tons of air pollution annually.”
Lastly, urban farming is also crucial to the environment and health of the surrounding community. It is a way of providing healthy food while also reducing transportation and energy costs as well as the amount of gas emissions produced since food is grown and processed directly in the city, where it is consumed. Some approaches to urban farming include vertical farms, hydroponics, and community gardens, all of which aim to make farming more efficient and eco-friendly. For instance, community gardens can help reduce food miles, reduce neighbourhood waste through composting, and reduce water runoff by replacing impervious structures with soil.
All in all, urban planning is crucial for the development and well-being of an urban area as well as its environment. Smart and strategic urban planning leads to the prosperity of an area while poor planning leads to environmental decay and compromised well-being of the people living in the area.
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