It is particularly ironic that the battle to save the world's remaining healthy ecosystems will be won or lost not in tropical forests or coral reefs that are threatened but on the streets of the most unnatural landscapes on the planet.(1)
Cities: Burden or Blessing?
Preserving the rights of our children and grandchildren to health and happiness depends on what we do today about global environmental change. The battle for a sustainable environmental future is being waged primarily in the world’s cities. Right now, cities draw together many of Earth’s major environmental problems: population growth, pollution, resource degradation and waste generation. Paradoxically, cities also hold our best chance for a sustainable future.
Urban concentration need not aggravate environmental problems. These are due primarily to unsustainable patterns of production and consumption and to inadequate urban management. Urban localities actually offer better chances for long-term sustainability, starting with the fact that they concentrate half the Earth’s population on less than 3 per cent of its land area. As Chapter 4 suggests, the dispersion of population and economic activities would likely make the problems worse rather than better. Adopting the right approaches in anticipation of urban growth can also prevent many of the environmental problems linked to urbanization.
From a demographic standpoint, not only do dense settlements have greater capacity than rural areas to absorb large populations sustainably, but urbanization itself is a powerful factor in fertility decline. Urbanization provides few incentives for large families and numerous disincentives.
Urbanization will not, however, deliver its benefits for sustainability automatically: They require careful preparation and nurturing. The previous chapter made this point with respect to the internal organization of cities. This chapter looks at how cities affect, and are affected by, global environmental problems.