For centuries, people mainly lived on farms. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, more and more people started to move into the city. It happened first in the United States and Europe, but now it's happening the world over. What does it mean for the environment and its inhabitants?
Building It Bigger and Bigger
Land is used for many reasons — for buildings, farms, parks, stores, houses, and more. People in the government plan how to use land; when buildings are constructed, they are often referred to as our built environment. Planning how to use land is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Planners have to find the best balance between places for residential developments, commercial developments, and industrial developments.
When people build a house — or any other type of building — it is called development. When big cities become overdeveloped, it's often called urban sprawl. Urban sprawl eats up natural green spaces like forests and wetlands, wildlife habitats, and even farms. Sprawl also increases traffic and pollutes the air and water. Flooding damage is often more severe as well. If there are so many negative consequences, why do communities keep spreading outward? Part of the reason is because of population growth. Another is because cities often offer the best job opportunities, so people from rural and small communities sometimes move to the city to make a better life for themselves.
It's very important to build in the right spot. Places like fire stations, schools, and government buildings are generally placed in convenient locations so they are easily accessible. You wouldn't want to build the only fire department on the edge of a community because it would take too long to get to a fire on the other side of town.
Use the Internet to look for images through time that show evidence of global development. An easy term to search for is global light pollution. You can find maps of the world at night to see where the major light pollution comes from. Over time, the skies have gotten brighter and brighter, and they will continue to do so as urban sprawl continues. Another way to examine development over time is by looking at your own region's development. Your local library will usually have books of old maps so you can see how your region has been developed over time. What was it like ten years ago? Twenty-five years ago? Fifty years ago?
A Peek into the Future
City planning in the future is bound to be different than it is now. People are getting smarter, technology is changing, and urban engineers must keep the Earth in mind if we are to have healthy places to live. This is called sustainable development. One example of how new cities are being planned is Masdar, a planned community in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates. The plans for the city include:
Creating all of the electricity from the sun and other renewable sources
Reusing or recycling all materials so the city creates zero waste
Banning cars and only allowing personal rapid transit systems and other public transit within city limits
Creating a wastewater plant that reuses water as many times as possible (like using old dishwater to irrigate plants)
What would your perfect eco-city look like? Have your students draw pictures of a dream green city. They should label their innovations for reducing pollution, reducing traffic, maintaining green spaces, conserving water, and anything else they'd like to add.