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Challenges to Urban Sustainability

Challenges to Urban Sustainability

You're a city planner who has gotten all the support and funding for your sustainability projects. Nothing can go wrong! Right? Wrong! Sustainable urban development has its own challenges ranging from urban growth to environmental problems caused by climate change. Can a city planner prepare for everything that might go wrong, but still manage to plan cities sustainably? Let's take a look at how the challenges of sustainable urban development may not be challenges at all—it all depends on perspective!

Challenges of Sustainable Urban Development

Urban sustainability is the goal of using resources to plan and develop cities to improve the social, economic, and environmental conditions of a city to ensure the quality of life of current and future residents. It's a monumental task for cities to undertake, with many influences and forces at work.

The challenges to urban sustainability are often the very same challenges that motivate cities to be more sustainable in the first place. In other words, the challenges are also the reasons for cities to invest in sustainable urban development. This is because without addressing these challenges, urban sustainability is not as effective. For the long-term success and resilience of cities, these challenges should serve as a current guide for current and future development.

See our explanation on Urban Sustainability to learn more!

Main Challenges to Urban Sustainability

There are six main challenges to urban sustainability. There is the matter of urban growth that, if unregulated, can come in the form of suburban sprawl. Suburban sprawl is unrestricted growth outside of major urban areas with separate designations for residential, commercial, entertainment, and other services, usually only accessible by car. This is a challenge because it promotes deregulated unsustainable urban development, conversion of rural and farmland, and car dependency.

Waste disposal and sanitation are growing problems as urban areas continue to grow. Improper waste disposal can lead to air, water, and soil pollution and contamination. This could inadvertently decrease the quality of life for residents in cities by creating unsanitary conditions which can lead to illness, harm, or death. Waste management systems have the task of managing current and projected waste processing.

Challenges to Urban Sustainability Figure 1 Smog over Almaty, Kazakhstan Main Challenges to Urban Sustainability StudySmarterFig. 1 - Smog over Almaty, Kazakhstan

Maintaining good air and water quality in urban areas is a challenge as these resources are not only used more but are also vulnerable to pollutants and contaminants. With poor quality, the health and well-being of residents can be jeopardized, leading again to possible illness, harm, or death. However, air quality and water resources can be protected through proper quality management and government policy.

Climate change overall threatens cities and their built infrastructure. Environmental disasters are more likely to occur with greater intensity; buildings, streets, and facilities are more likely to be damaged or destroyed. The clean-up for these can be costly to cities and unsustainable in the long term.

Energy use is of particular concern for cities, as it can be both costly and wasteful. Fossil fuel energy (coal, oil, and natural gas) currently supplies most of the world's energy, emitting carbon and other pollutants into the atmosphere that exacerbate climate change and reduce air quality. Further, sprawling urban development and high car dependency are linked with greater energy use and waste. Energy conservation schemes are especially important to mitigate wasteful energy use.

The overall ecological footprint of cities is high and getting higher. This is because as cities grow, more resources are needed for maintaining economic conditions in a city. Sustainable management of resources and limiting the impact on the environment are important goals for cities.

For the APHG Exam, remember these six main challenges!

Environmental Challenges of Water Sustainability

Water resources in particular are at a greater risk of depletion due to increased droughts and floods. As climate change effects intensify extreme weather patterns, disturbances in water resources can occur. For instance, with warmer recorded temperatures, glaciers melt faster. Fresh-water rivers and lakes which are replenished by glaciers will have an altered timing of replenishment; there may be more water in the spring and less in the summer.

Further, unpredictable timing and quantity of precipitation can both dry up growing crops or lead to flash floods. Water conservation schemes can then be one way to ensure both the quantity and quality of water for residents.

Challenges to Urban Sustainability Figure 2 River in Amazon Rainforest Main Challenges to Urban Sustainability StudySmarterFig. 2 - River in the Amazon Rainforest; environmental challenges to water sustainability depend on location and water management

The majority of natural resources in the world are consumed in cities. Urban governments are tasked with the responsibility of managing not only water resources but also sanitation, waste, food, and air quality. Poor resource management can not only affect residents in cities but also people living in other parts of the world.

Examples of Urban Sustainability Challenges

Each of these urban sustainability challenges comes with its own host of issues. For instance, industrial pollution, which can threaten air and water quality, must be mitigated. Poor waste management likewise can harm the well-being of residents through improper waste disposal. Finally, the greater challenge of overpopulation from urban growth must be addressed and responded to through sustainable urban development.

Industrial Pollution

Power plants, chemical facilities, and manufacturing companies emit a lot of pollutants into the atmosphere. Cities with a high number of these facilities are linked with poorer air quality, water contamination, and poor soil health. Particularly for developing countries, manufacturing serves as a very important economic source, serving contracts or orders from companies in developed countries.

Some of the most polluted cities in the world are located in areas of high manufacturing and industrialization. Lack of regulation and illegal dumping are causes for concern and can lead to a greater dispersion of pollutants without oversight.

Urban Sustainability Challenges Figure 3 Industrial Pollution in Russia Industrial Pollution StudySmarterFig. 3 - Industrial Pollution in Russia

Waste Management

There are different kinds of waste emitted in urban areas. For instance, domestic waste is household trash, usually generate from packaged goods. Cities in developed countries may create more waste due to consuming and discarding a greater amount of packaging. Proper disposal, recycling, and waste management are critical for cities.

Commercial waste is generated by businesses, usually also in the form of an overabundance of packaged goods. This can include waste made by offices, schools, and shops. Another kind of waste produced by businesses is industrial waste, which can include anything from gravel and scrap metal to toxic chemicals. This kind of waste is produced by factories or power plants.

All different types of waste must be properly managed in cities. Poor waste management can lead to direct or indirect pollution of water, air, and other resources. More regulation and penalties can assist with waste management, but many countries, both developed and developing, struggle with this.

Overpopulation

Overpopulation occurs when people exceed the resources provided by a location. Thankfully, the world has many resources and the capacity to properly distribute them. When cities begin to grow quickly, planning and allocation of resources are critical. If a city experiences overpopulation, it can lead to a high depletion of resources, lowering the quality of life for all.

The ecological footprint of cities is measured by the number of people in a city and how much they're consuming. Cities that want to manage the amount of resources they're consuming must also manage population increases.

Responses to Urban Sustainability Challenges

There are several responses to urban sustainability challenges that are also part of urban sustainable development strategies. For instance, greater regional planning efforts are necessary as cities grow and change over time. Regional cooperation is especially important to combat suburban sprawl; as cities grow, people will look for cheaper housing in surrounding rural and suburban towns outside of cities.

Without regional planning, rural and suburban towns will grow but will have a massive amount of commuters demanding greater highway access. This will continue the cycle of suburban sprawl and car dependency. Proper land-use designation and infrastructure planning can remedy the effects of urban growth.

See the explanations on Suburbanization, Sprawl, and Decentralization to learn more!

Regional planning can also help create urban growth boundaries, a limit that determines how far an urban area will develop spatially. This can assist governments in preserving natural areas or agricultural fields. Farmland protection policies are policies that prevent the conversion of agricultural land to anything non-agricultural-related. These policies can assist with a range of sustainability policies, from providing food for cities to maintaining air quality and providing flood control.

Sustainable development can be implemented in ways that can both mitigate the challenges of urban sustainability and address the goals. When cities build and expand, they can create greenbelts, areas of wild, undeveloped land in surrounding urban areas. These areas can both improve air quality, preserve natural habitats for animals, and allow for new recreational opportunities for residents.

Urban Sustainability Challenges Figure 4 Responses to Urban Sustainability Challenges StudySmarterFig. 4, Example of a greenbelt in Tehran, Iran

Finally, the redevelopment of brownfields, former industrial areas that have been abandoned, can be an efficient way of re-purposing infrastructure. These can be sites where previous factories, landfills, or other facilities used to operate. However, many of these areas may be contaminated and polluted with former toxins and the costs of clean-up and redevelopment may be high.

Challenges to Urban Sustainability - Key takeaways

  • The challenges to urban sustainability are also what motivate cities to be more sustainable.
  • The six main challenges to urban sustainability include: suburban sprawl, sanitation, air and water quality, climate change, energy use, and the ecological footprint of cities.
  • Other urban sustainability challenges include industrial pollution, waste management, and overpopulation.
  • The main five responses to urban sustainability challenges are regional planning efforts, urban growth boundaries, farmland protection policies, and greenbelts.

References

  1. Fig. 1, Smog over Almaty, Kazakhstan (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Smog_over_Almaty.jpg), by Igors Jefimovs (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Igor22121976), licensed by CC-BY-3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)
  2. Fig. 2, River in Amazon Rainforest (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:River_RP.jpg), by Jlwad (https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=User:Jlwad&action=edit&redlink=1), licensed by CC-BY-SA-4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)
  3. Fig. 3, Industrial Pollution in Russia (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Industry_in_Russia.jpg), by Alt-n-Anela (https://www.flickr.com/people/47539533@N05), licensed by CC-BY-2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en)
  4. Fig. 4, Example of a greenbelt in Tehran, Iran (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tochal_from_Modarres_Expressway.jpg), by Kaymar Adl (https://www.flickr.com/photos/kamshots/), licensed by CC-BY-2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en)

Frequently Asked Questions about Challenges to Urban Sustainability

The six main challenges to urban sustainability include: suburban sprawl, sanitation, air and water quality, climate change, energy use, and the ecological footprint of cities. 

Two environmental challenges to urban sustainability are water quality and air quality. 

Some obstacles a sustainable city can face can range from urban growth to climate change effects. 

The main five responses to urban sustainability challenges are regional planning efforts, urban growth boundaries, farmland protection policies, greenbelts, and redevelopment of brownfields. 

Final Challenges to Urban Sustainability Quiz

Question

What are the six main challenges to urban sustainability?

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Answer

suburban sprawl, sanitation, air and water quality, climate change, energy use, and the ecological footprint of cities.

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How can suburban sprawl be a challenge to urban sustainability?

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Answer

Loss of farmland.

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How can sanitation be a challenge to urban sustainability?

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Improper waste disposal.

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How can air and water quality be a challenge to urban sustainability?

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Answer

Pollution and contaminants.

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How can climate change be a challenge to urban sustainability?

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Answer

Environmental disasters.

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How can energy use be a challenge to urban sustainability?

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Answer

High reliance on fossil fuel energy. 

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How can a city's ecological footprint be a challenge to urban sustainability?

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Answer

High resource use. 

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Cities with a high number of manufacturing are linked with ____. 

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Answer

Poorer air quality. 

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What is overpopulation? 

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when people exceed the resources provided by a location.

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What are the 5 responses to urban sustainability challenges?

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regional planning efforts, urban growth boundaries, farmland protection policies, greenbelts, and redevelopment of brownfields. 

Show question

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How can regional planning efforts respond to urban sustainability challenges? 

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Answer

Proper land-use designation.

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How can urban growth boundaries respond to urban sustainability challenges? 

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Answer

Preserve natural areas. 

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How can farmland protection policies respond to urban sustainability challenges? 

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Provide flood control. 

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How can greenbelts respond to urban sustainability challenges? 

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Improve air quality.

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How can the redevelopment of brownfields respond to urban sustainability challenges? 

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Re-use infrastructure. 

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What is suburban sprawl?

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The unrestricted growth outside of major urban areas with separate designations for residential, commercial, entertainment, and other services, usually only accessible by car. 

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Single-use zoning is...

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when only one kind of use or purpose can be built. 

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A suburban development is built across from a dense, urban neighborhood.


This is an example of...

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Radial sprawl.

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A strip mall is built along a major roadway.


This is an example of...

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Radial sprawl. 

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A large suburban development is built out in the countryside. 


This is an example of...

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Answer

Radial sprawl.

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The major causes of suburban sprawl are...

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housing costs, population growth, lack of urban planning, and consumer preferences.

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How did the federal government influence suburban sprawl in the US?

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Fair Deal legislation and the creation of the GI Bill. 

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Low density (suburban sprawl) is correlated with high car use. 

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True.

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The environmental effects of suburban sprawl include...

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Wasteful use of resources and energy. 

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What are some urban sustainability practices that could prevent suburban sprawl?

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New Urbanism.

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What does AQI stand for?

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Air Quality Index.

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Name three countries with high air quality.

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Puerto Rico, Sweden, and Finland

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Name three countries with poor air quality.

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Bangladesh, Chad, and Pakistan.

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What is the AQI scale range?

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0-500.

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How many categories are there in the AQI?

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6.

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What does the AQI do?

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Indicates air quality to levels to members of the public.

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Fill in the blanks. The AQI range 151-200 is colored ____. This means the air quality is at the level of concern of ____.

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Red, unhealthy.

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True or false? The highest AQI range (at the level of concern of hazardous) means that air quality is extremely poor and poses dangerous health risks to all.

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True.

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True or false? AQI ranged 51-100 means the air quality is considered good.

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False.

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List some types of air pollution.

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Particulate matter, lead, ground level ozone, nitrogen oxide, sulfur oxide, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide. 

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What is particulate matter?

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Fine material produced in air pollution that humans can breathe in. Examples include smoke and dust.

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What are some anthropogenic causes of air pollution?

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Transportation, industrial facilities, fossil fuels, and agriculture.

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True or false? Generally, rural areas experience more levels of pollution than urban areas. 

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False.

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What are some effects of air pollution on society.

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Health impacts, such as asthma and lung disease.

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How does air pollution contribute to climate change?

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Pollution includes greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming and climate change.

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What are the 5 indicators of water quality?

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Dissolved oxygen, pH, turbidity, nitrates, and bioindicators. 

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Name some illnesses that poor water quality can lead to. 

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Cholera, typhoid, diarrhea, hepatitis A, and polio.

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True or false? Climate, precipitation, soil and sediments, vegetation, and human activities are all factors of declining water quality.

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True.

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Fill in the blank. Turbidity is a measure of how ___ the water is.

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Cloudy.

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What sources of urbanization can create water pollution?

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Factories and power plants, forestry and agriculture, mining and municipal wastewater treatment plants.

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True or false? Non-point source pollution is when the exact location of pollution can be located.

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False.

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What is eutrophication?

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High amounts of nutrients that lead to an algal bloom and prevents oxygen and light from entering the water. 

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What are water quality standards?

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A set of standards that are required of water in order for its quality to be considered high.

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What pollutants occur due to agricultural practices?

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Fertilizers, pesticides, and insecticides.

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What is the ideal pH for bodies of water?

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6.5-8.5.

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