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Environmental Problems of Modern Cities

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Graduated in Geography with a major in Environmental Protection. In love with sustainability, ecology, geology and nature.

Traffic pollution, Delhi

Traffic pollution, Delhi


Together with many social and economic benefits of urbanization, there are also environmental problems. Cities comprise less than 3% of the Earth's surface, but there is an extraordinary concentration of population, industry, and energy use leading to massive local pollution and environmental degradation.

In cities, approximately 78% of carbon emissions are due to human activities. The ecological footprints of cities (through emissions, consumption, and other human activities) go far beyond their urban boundaries; reaching forests, farming land, and water sources which sustain city dwellers, those footprints have an enormous impact on the surrounding rural, regional and global ecosystem.

Cities are not only centers of consumption (energy, materials, etc.), but also of greenhouse gas production, waste, and air and water pollution. The ecological and sociological footprints of cities have expanded over increasingly large areas and created an urban-rural continuum of communities whose members have similar lifestyles. There are fewer and fewer areas in the world that still escape their reach.

The world faces enormous environmental challenges in terms of climate change, resource use, and protection of the natural environment. Urban areas have a high environmental impact that can be felt globally, as well as within their own borders.

Shanghai smog

Shanghai smog

Ecological footprint

The environmental impacts of modern cities go beyond their surrounding regions; size, rate, and connections of the modern metropolis have a global impact, and the ecological footprint is one measure of these effects. This measurement is based on the total amount of productive land needed to maintain current activities and the removal of waste in each area—and in cities like New York and Tokyo, that footprint is hundreds of times larger than their actual size. These places are also faced with problems such as acid rain, reduction of the ozone layer and global warming.

Los Angeles smog

Los Angeles smog

Developing countries

In the cities of the developing world, where population growth is outpacing the ability to provide the necessary infrastructure and services, the most serious environmental problems are expected in the immediate vicinity, with serious economic and social impacts on the urban population. Inadequate water supply to households, the accumulation of waste, and unhygienic conditions require large claims in terms of unnecessary deaths and illness of one billion of the world population who lives in slums. Cities in developing countries are also faced with the worst urban air pollution in the world, which occurs as a result of rapid industrialization and increased motorized traffic. It is estimated that worldwide urban air pollution is the cause of one million premature deaths each year and costs 2% of the GDP in developed countries and 5% in developing countries

Developed Countries

The urban population of developed countries, which is characterized by some of the highest rates of per capita consumption in the world is largely responsible for the resulting trends. US city with 650,000 inhabitants requires approximately 30,000 km2 to meet its needs, similarly big, but less wealthy city in India requires only 2,800 km2. Similarly, the urban population of the developed world produces six times more waste than urban dwellers in developing countries.

However, developing countries are becoming richer and urbaner, and their levels of consumption are close to those in developed countries. As a result, they rapidly and significantly contribute to the global problem of resource depletion and climate change. The need to change the cities into more efficient and less polluted areas is, therefore, more necessary than ever.

While cities of developed countries have adopted policies and technologies to improve many of their local environmental problems, it is growing recognition that human activities in urban areas have significant impacts at the global level. In fact, cities of the world represent 75% of global energy consumption and 80% of greenhouse gas emissions, and a disproportionate share of resource use.

Smog in Cairo

Smog in Cairo

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Environmental Problems of Modern Cities

Urban environmental problems are mostly inadequate water supply, wastewater, solid waste, energy, loss of green and natural spaces, urban sprawl, pollution of soil, air, traffic, noise, etc. All these problems are particularly serious in developing countries and countries with economic transition, where there is a conflict between the short-term economic plan and the protection of the environment.

Smog on Manhattan

Smog on Manhattan

Pollution of the urban environment and its components is the total resultant of an excessive burden on the environment and the self-cleaning capacity. Environmental problems in urban areas are growing especially in cities in developing countries. Of greatest concern are the state of air quality, noise, and congestion. In cities of economically developed countries, the environmental problems related to industrial production, lodging, and basic infrastructure are reduced, however, the problems of consumption (increasing waste) and traffic problems have increased.

Cities consume increasing amounts of natural resources, produce more and more waste and emissions, and all of this has an impact on the regional and planetary environment. Air and water pollution and waste are the main environmental problems in most cities. The underlying causes of air pollution in the city are the processes that are associated with the burning of fossil fuels (production and consumption of energy for heating buildings, industrial activities, traffic).

Noise is also a special form of pollution, which burdens the urban population. Urbanization causes numerous effects on water resources; these effects can change the hydrology, water quality, and availability of aquatic habitats. Deterioration in the quality of ground and river water in the cities is mainly due to the water consumption of the population and industry. Contamination is usually caused by industrial activity as well as the disposal of waste, so cities are dominated by water pollution from municipal and industrial wastewater.

The city is marked by large inputs of energy, water, food, and a variety of raw materials, resulting in large quantities of goods, as well as waste, which means a huge loss of natural resources in the form of raw materials and energy. Urban ecosystems are indicated by very high energy consumption and large amounts of solid waste that accumulate in certain places. In this way, they represent landscape degradation factors and adversely affect the quality of water resources and urban air.


In most cities, humans have completely transformed nature; vegetation has been replaced with concrete, asphalt, and other surfaces; riverbeds have been buried or redirected; and huge amounts of energy, water, and other substances have been, and continue to be, artificially transferred. Growing cities are changing hydrological relationships and influencing the size and frequency of floods. Knowledge of urban hydrology and geomorphology is not only key to good urban planning but should be available to each resident.


Cities have little direct impact on the global balance of radiation, but inside urban climate, generated by absorption and subsequent re-radiation of heat from built-up areas and emissions of artificial heat through combustion, creates the effect of the urban heat island. Cities are warmer at night than the surrounding countryside and often, especially in the higher latitudes, even during the day. In Tokyo, anthropogenically generated heat increases the temperature of the urban surface by about 1.5 ° C in summer and 2.5 ° C in winter, the effect of urban land use raises the temperature by about 1 ° C in both halves of the year.


Even the hydrological cycle is increasingly under the influence of a man who uses water for different purposes and returns it to the water cycle contaminated. These changes are in urban areas so profound that we can speak of urban hydrology. Built-up areas create artificial impervious surfaces that reduce surface water supplies, infiltration is gone, surface flow, permeability, and erosion are increased, and evaporation is reduced. In a wider range, it comes not only to qualitative but also quantitative consequences (regulation, dam construction). However, human activity is reflected in the quality of water resources. The major problem presents urban waste water and residues of pesticides and biocides, which pass through the surface and groundwater. Freshwater resources in urban areas are also threatened by the waste from transport, tourism, military activities.


Human activities have a negative impact on the pedosphere. This is reflected in the increasing chemigation and mechanization of agriculture in the cities; soil poisoning; air contamination; precipitation; and changes in land-use quality for sealing.

Polluted air in Delhi

Polluted air in Delhi

Consequences and Effects of Urbanization

Knowing the problems of urbanization is not enough, it is necessary to understand their implications and the degree of social preparedness to deal with them. The consequences and effects of urbanization depend on many other factors and are operating in all segments of human activity and the environment. They can be divided into several groups:

1. Environmental problems due to the production and consumption:

  • increasing energy consumption, which results in a reduction of non-renewable resources
  • problems of infrastructure that does not follow the spread of urbanization
  • high consumption of drinking water, which affects the lowering of groundwater levels
  • excessive use of space

2. Pollution problems from major manufacturers and emissions problems due to the dispersed agents:

  • pollution of water, air, and soil due to industry and agriculture
  • problems of waste disposal sites, particularly radioactive
  • the problem of the concentration of population (air pollution, groundwater ...)
  • a dense network of roads and an increase in traffic (air pollution, noise, ...)

3. Social and environmental problems and the consequences of urbanization (differences between population groups, stress loads, accidents, disease, crime, ...)

4. The economic component of the effects of urbanization (accidents, the cost of building infrastructure, road network damage as a result of an interaction of a large number of factors which by themselves would not have negative effects on the environment, ...).

Smog over the city

Smog over the city

The future?

Where the cities trigger environmental problems, they also offer solutions. As 'hot spots' of production, consumption, and waste generation, cities possess the potential, which can increase the energy efficiency and sustainability of society as a whole. Solving these problems is beneficial for the environment, and also improves the health and wellbeing of citizens, and should be the basis of development that would make cities more attractive places for living and working.

© 2016 Ksenija


Ksenija (author) from Novo mesto, Slovenia on May 15, 2020:

Thank you Violet!

Violet on May 15, 2020:

It was amazing to read every paragraph you’ve made, very attractive and interesting information about nowadays’ world. Thank you for a great work!

Kim F on March 17, 2020:

Good Read

Ksenija (author) from Novo mesto, Slovenia on March 10, 2020:

Thank you everyone for the read! I appreciate it.

sambow 101 on March 09, 2020:


Benard mokamba ondero on November 17, 2019:

The world needs people like you.Thank you.Big up

Tsk on July 11, 2019:

Thanhk you soooo muchhh

Ksenija (author) from Novo mesto, Slovenia on May 23, 2019:

What fake news Karen Shupert? And what is the truth?

Ksenija (author) from Novo mesto, Slovenia on May 23, 2019:

Thank you SpoNGEBob for reading :)

Karen Shupert on May 23, 2019:

Thank you so much for this amazing and delightful insight on this very serious topic, but I personally believe that Donald Trump is correct. This does not seem real to me. It just looks so fabricated and photo-shopped. So sad to see this world be littered with this fake news(AKA NOT GARBAGE). This is bad for our country and world. Truly upsetting. Please do not spread fake news. Thank you for taking your time to read! I hope you find the truth soon. I hope the truth sets you free! Best of luck, have an amazing day!

SpoNGEBob on May 23, 2019:


The Kibaba on April 14, 2019:

It was an insightful master piece of work..

Ksenija (author) from Novo mesto, Slovenia on December 20, 2018:

Thank you everyone for your feedback!

Mark Adams on December 13, 2018:

@LiamNorthwood said about ptojects that help the environment, well there is another one called the great green wall in africa which stops the process of desertification. And it created job. More info on google if you need it.

LiamNorthwood on October 22, 2018:

Our evnironment is very important, we must treat it with great care !

I recently found out about a new project called "Natures" on planting Paulownia trees.

Check them out:

#Standforgreen !

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