Retransform URBAN AREAS

Urban areas occupy less than 1% of the Earth’s land surface but house more than half of its people. Despite their steel and concrete, crowds and traffic, cities and towns are still ecosystems whose condition profoundly marks the quality of our lives.
Functioning urban ecosystems help clean our air and water, cool urban heat islands, and support our well-being by shielding us from hazards and providing opportunities for rest and play. They can also host a surprising amount of biodiversity.
Urban ecosystems represent a radical transformation of the natural areas they have replaced and are often highly degraded. Poor planning seals soils and leaves little space for vegetation amid the houses, roads and factories. Waste and emissions from industry, traffic and homes pollutes waterways, soils and the air. Unchecked urban sprawl gobbles up more and more natural habitat and fertile farmland.
Restoring urban ecosystems requires awareness and commitment from both citizens and decision makers. Green spaces need to be placed at the heart of urban planning. Civic groups and municipal authorities can clean up waterways, plant trees and create urban woodland and other wildlife habitat in parks, schools and other public spaces.
Permeable sidewalks and urban wetlands can protect against flooding and pollution. Contaminated industrial areas can be rehabilitated and turned into urban nature reserves and places for recreation and relaxation.
CITIES ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM. Cities occupy 2-3% of the planet’s land surface, but as much as 70-75% of natural resources are consumed within them.
Expanding urban areas are often associated with increases in resource consumption and waste production, which puts pressure on ecosystems and supply chains. Additionally as the number of people living in urban areas grows, so too may the concentration of people in vulnerable areas.
Cities and towns thus expose social and ecological systems to harm, and the impacts are likely to be exacerbated with urbanisation and climate change.
CITIES CAN BE THE SOLUTION. In recent decades, some cities have started to change towards a greener, more sustainable and more resilient model of urban development. They are investing in forests, wetlands and other green spaces – “green infrastructure” – to tackle urban issues previously addressed with engineered solutions that often involve concrete, asphalt and steel.
Properly planned, green infrastructure can be cheaper to establish and maintain than engineered solutions while performing similar functions, generating income and employment and increasing the quality of the urban environment.
Urban and peri-urban forests help regulate water flows in cities by intercepting and absorbing rainfall; create a favourable environment for animals and plants, thus contributing to biodiversity conservation; and provide spaces for physical exercise and recreation, thus increasing the well-being, social cohesion and health of urban communities.
Well-managed forests in city hinterlands ensure the supply of good-quality water to urban dwellers and prevent erosion and land degradation.
When fully integrated into local urban planning and management, trees and forests can help transform cities into more sustainable, resilient, healthy, equitable and pleasant places to live. (FAO, 2018)