Cities today are growing and developing faster than ever before. This growth is due to easier transportation methods, immigration, technological advances and people becoming more and more attracted to cities based on their business focus and convenience of facilities. But cities are facing many difficulties that are affecting the life of people that live, work and study in these areas. Cities that have and are experiencing urbanization are also seeing problems such as pollution; they are experiencing climate change which is not working well with the cities’ density and high population, air quality and solid waste troubles. Various problems that cities are facing today will be discussed and a presentation of how these cases are manifested in an urban context will be identified. Following these issues, I will present the downfall of solutions attempted in cities to combat the multiple plagues that our modern cities face.
The first issue that cities are experiencing is s surge in population and a lack of space to accommodate the growth. People all over the world are moving to cities because they are seen to offer more opportunities for employment, access to health care and to education. Cities are efficient places for humans, and attractive to the younger lifestyle. However, as Dr. Bunting states, “Urban space is a scarce resource, it becomes the object of substantial capital investment so its use can be maximized”. Technology has enhanced urban growth and caused cities to become larger. The demand and popularity of urban life has caused this growth based on the high standard of living that city life offers.
Canadian inner cities remain a mainstay of higher-density, high rise condominiums. As Dr. Bunting shows in a research, “based on the trends in the rate of natural population increase and expected levels of immigration, the projection call is a total of thirty six million people in 2026, increasing twenty percent over twenty five years. An example of high density and the maximization of urban space is prominent in Toronto. “Toronto will continue to grow, reaching close to seven million people by 2026. Growth will also occur in Vancouver, Ottawa, Calgary and Edmonton. Downtown Vancouver and Toronto are famous for their high rise condominiums, overpowering neighbourhoods and urban life today. The residential population surged due to these buildings but this has not helped the already dense cities. The condominium surge has created problems for cities. “An increased presence in housing raises issues of incompatibility between downtown land uses that were ignored in the past”. Furthermore, “The presence of high-capacity road systems encourages reliance on the automobile and the truck, and high rates of car and truck use generate a continued demand for improved and expanded roads”. This type of growth is causing another serious problem. It is pushing away and excluding poor people, which violates their rights to use the city and for the very poor, it takes them away from the services that downtown offers, such as shelters, social services, panhandling opportunities and public space.
All of this growth and glamorization of city life is counterproductive to the recent climate changes and environmental issues we are increasingly experiencing. “Urbanization has four main impacts in nature. First, as urban areas grow, they consume landscape, so forests, fields and wetlands, are slowly becoming extinct which results in having less natural systems in the city. For example, Toronto is slowly lacking its lush forests and greenery due to the mass construction of condominiums in the downtown core. “As Calthorpe argues, communities were embedded in nature. Local climate, plants, vistas, etc., defined communities. Now, smog, pavement, toxic soil, receding ecologies and polluted water are destroying neighbourhoods”. Cities have also become central to consumption and where people mostly choose to live. Therefore, cities require large quantities of resources to maintain infrastructure, fuel growth and to support the inhabitants. Due to this trend, many forms of pollution remain unacceptably high, including the presence of toxic substances in air and water. “When summers are hot, residents of large metropolitan regions are reminded by successive smog alerts of environmental consequences of industrialization, power generation, and transportation” (ibid). Cities affected are Toronto, Hamilton and Waterloo to name a few. Smog and pollution are hazardous for humans because this causes an increase in health risks. Air quality and pollution is also dangerous for our crops because it reduces their productivity, and can contribute to climate changes such as tornadoes and thunderstorms. Water is also affected by this pollution and keeping it clean is costing cities. “Automobile by-products, air toxins and pollutants run off into ground water and are increasingly becoming a major source for both ground and surface water pollution”. “The cumulative costs of supplying drinking water, processing wastewater and upgrading infrastructure are a heavy burden to municipal budgets”. Solid waste has also become recurring problems in cities. For example, Toronto ships their garbage to Michigan which is extremely costly and keeping it in Toronto would be extremely toxic due to the fumes it emits.
Transportation is another problem that cities are experiencing. Although most cities have a developed city transit, subway systems, well organized roads and highways, it is still causing some problems. It consumes a lot of land. It is also an “intrusion on some neighbourhoods which can include physical unsightliness, physical barriers within neighbourhoods, noise and a reduction of safety on the streets”. Moreover, it is causing atmospheric pollution. Fossil-fuel based vehicles are a source of many damaging pollutants major cities experience. Buses and roads that enable the usage of vehicles worsen this situation. More toxicities are released into the atmosphere such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide compounds, uncombusted hydrocarbons, etc. Furthermore, transportation is one of the main causes of greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon dioxide is one of the emissions from fossil fuel combustion in road vehicles and it is one of the dominant factors that cause climate change and global warming. Transportation is also a contributor to energy consumption because urban transportation systems are very dependent on fossil fuels (gasoline and diesel fuel).
More focus toward city solutions are needed. There need to be an increase of density for housing, industry and retailing so that more people can live on less land and to efficiently use public transportation, roads, energy and water services. We need design buildings that will disable the wastage of electricity and water. This needs to be done at a municipal and provincial level where by-laws and codes are implemented for newly built buildings and the restoration and renovation of these complexes. Incentives need to also be in place in order for people to feel rewarded or productive and cooperative to the betterment of our cities. Solutions need to also begin at the individual and community level. The city needs to create lanes for bikers, just like they did to encourage car pooling and they need to renovate the cities walkways in order to encourage people to use walkways more often.
It is interesting to note however, the interesting statistics that show that the current mechanism we do have in place to reduce waste, to reuse and to recycle are not effective in some cases either. For example, “64% of the reusable bags tested were contaminated with some level of bacteria and close to 30% had elevated bacterial counts higher than what’s considered safe for drinking water”. Moreover, “40% of the bags had yeast or mold, and some of the bags had an unacceptable presence of coliforms, faecal intestinal bacteria, when there should none”. Other studies also demonstrate that even when decided to stay home in order to consume less, Franklin and Associates completed an energy analysis that compared reusable grocery bags. It turned out that the total energy used by bag, therefore energy to manufacture the bag and energy within the physical materials caused pollutant and found that plastic bags were safer for the environment. Another example are the issues of disposable diapers. Although disposable diapers are the largest part of our garbage problem, there have been studies that demonstrate that the disposable diapers are preferred. Although they produces more solid waste than cloth diapers, cloth diapers use more water volume and produce water borne waste. When looking as commercial dishwasher use, it has been found that the energy used to make reusable cups is less than the energy used to wash the glasses in a dishwasher because a paper cup is never washed. In relation to cars, hybrids are a famous technology that has made us see cars in a greener light but hybrid cars are complex and the manufacturing of these car’s batteries spend energy on petrol container ships and diesel powered trains to have this product shipped back and for the between Canada, Wales and China. To make matters worse, the battery life is rated as poor. All of these examples have been advances used in various aspects within our lifestyles in the name of being environmentally conscious and in being green. However, it seems to me that these processes are moving us backwards instead of forward in our quest for ameliorating the global environment.
In conclusion, it is up to humanity to prepare and think up plans that will minimize and hopefully reduce the disastrous effects that climate change, population growth and urbanization in general have on our environment. In the developed world, standards of living and material lifestyles are common place. However, these demanding lifestyles require a high use of energy based on fossil fuels. All of these violations against the environment need a solution and it has to be done globally. We need to understand the problems we face in cities locally and globally with the help of science and the collaboration of environmental experts in order to find strategies that are rewarding and encouraging for everyone. The positive results would have to be displayed to the public so that further motivation could occur. Then, all of these new environmentally safe and friendly strategies will become our new lifestyle and can be finally passed down from generation to generation. Once we regain the clean and natural conditions of our cities, the future generations can work on its restorations.