Urban development: Understanding the impact of an expanding population

Published: 17 September 2016

As the human population grows so does the demand for housing and infrastructure. Our population is growing at a rapid pace, with our current population figure standing at 7.5 billion. Urban development refers to the development of the urban space, with the demand for cities to continue to grow and industrialise. Many environmental issues circle urban development, with an idea of creating sustainable development that does not put the human population or animal population at risk. Sustainable urban development refers to urbanisation that does not allow excessive levels of air and water pollution. Urban development itself increases the amount of pollution omitted into our atmosphere. When we think or Urban development that may refer to a wide range of development areas, more and more cities are opening airports for example as a result of urban development.

What effects does urban development have on the environment?

Urban development has a huge effect on the environment, with many cities across the globe constantly expanding and developing to house an ever-increasing human population. Today, we are seeing our cities expand at a rapid rate, trebling in size. Of course, cities have a larger population to care for and therefore need to adapt adequately. We are seeing an increase in public transport networks, with new railways being constructed, underground travel system being expanded and of course air travel. Though the development of such travel networks directly benefits those who live in urban areas, it is without a doubt concerning for air pollution levels. Almost all forms of transportation negatively contribute to our global Co2 emissions, with some cities and areas across the world being more responsible. Cities such as Beijing, New York, Tokyo and London often are featured on news stories about dangerously high levels of pollution. In Beijing, many citizens regularly wear respiratory masks in fear of ingesting the dangerous pollutants in the air. Many cities have pledged to take responsibility for their pollution levels, fearing the wellbeing of citizens. In January 2017, London was featured in the news for its dangerously high air pollution levels, which in fact saw the major issue the highest air pollution alert in London for the first time. Air pollution accounts for around 9,000 early deaths in London each year. As well as air pollution the levels of water pollution in urban areas are considerably higher too. Larger cities often fail to monitor waste, especially waste that makes its way to oceans. With more industrial factories, farmland and of course inhabitants to name a few factors, ocean pollution is significantly higher near large cities.

How are animals affected by urban development?

Urban development poses many threats to animals and is continuing to worsen. The clearing of natural land to make way for new roads, railways and even airports sees the loss of habitat for many species. Such actions push the animal out of its natural habitat and see a huge reduction in reproduction figures as a result. Air pollution and water pollution are significantly dangerous for animals. Ocean pollution sees many animals ecosystems be destroyed, unnatural contaminants entering the body of marine animals and entanglement in plastic waste and man-made objects.

Excessive air pollution is contributing significantly to climate change. A warming atmosphere does not bode well for many species, resulting in warming of oceans, drier land, increased risk of natural fires and the melting of sea ice. An additional factor to be taken into consideration is also the threat of coastal development, which is, of course, an extension of urban development. Coastal development refers to the disappearance of coastline to make way for urban areas. Urban areas on the coast result in noisy areas often uninviting for animals such as sea turtles which rely on beaches to lay eggs during their breeding season. In fact, the sea turtle species has seen a significant drop in population figures, with less Sea Turtle’s approaching the coast to lay eggs than ever before. Noise pollution acts as a real threat to animals, who are often startled and stressed by the unfamiliar.

What can be done?

Urban development is certainly not an easy issue to deal with. Rather than approaching the issue in a rigid way which of course is not possible, many are starting to develop a concept known as sustainable urban development. The concept of sustainable urban development looks at how our cities and urban areas can continue to grow and develop, whilst reducing the direct negative effects on the environment and animals. For example, when the issue of transport is considered, sustainable transport may be in the form of electric vehicles, which of course contribute significantly less to air pollution levels. In London, sustainable urban development can be seen in many areas of the city, one example being the efficient cycling tracks around the city. Encouraging cycling is a simple and cheap solution to creating a more environmentally city. Another form of encouraging sustainable urban development can be seen in the form of creating green space in cities. The creation of parks and the balance of concrete with green space can make a huge difference. Through taking care of parks and encouraging wildlife to thrive in these ‘quiet’ areas, humans and animals can live together in harmony in cities. As an individual, you may be questioning what you can do to help. There are actions you can take to help, reducing your transport use, electrical use in your home and your consumer use can make a positive impact. Opting to recycle can result in less ocean and land pollution, meaning fewer animals are likely to fall victim to irresponsible littering.

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