Urbanisation in MEDCs

Urbanisation can cause problems such as transport congestion, lack of sufficient housing, over-rapid growth and environmental degradation. Many cities display particularly sharp inequalities in housing provision, health and employment.

Some people try to escape these problems by moving away from the city - a process called counter-urbanisation. Long term, however, the solution must be to make cities more sustainable [sustainable: Doing something in a way that minimises damage to the environment and avoids using up natural resources, eg by using renewable resources. ].

Causes of urbanisation

Urbanisation means an increase in the proportion of people living in urban areas compared to rural areas. An urban area is a built-up area such as a town or city. A rural area is an area of countryside.

As a country industrialises, the number of people living in urban areas tends to increase. The UK and many other MEDCs [MEDC: A More Economically Developed Country (MEDC) has high levels of development based on economic indicators such as gross domestic product (the country's income). ] urbanised during the 18th and 19th centuries. People migrated from rural areas (due to the mechanisation in farming) to urban areas where there was employment in the new factories. The area of cities known as the inner city developed during this time as rows of terraced housing were built for workers.

Santiago, Chile

Santiago, Chile

Today the UK is a mostly urban society, with 90 per cent of the population living in towns or cities.

On a global scale, urbanisation is taking place rapidly, particularly in LEDCs [LEDC: A Less Economically Developed Country (LEDC) has low levels of development, based on economic indicators, such as gross domestic product (the country's income). ].

Although the UK is an urban society, more and more people are choosing to live on the edge of urban areas - with many relocating to the countryside. This is called counter-urbanisation.

Problems of urbanisation in the CBD - traffic congestion

Traffic jam on the M6 motorway

Traffic jam on the M6 motorway

As more people move to the edge of towns and cities, traffic congestion [traffic congestion: When a road is overused and vehicles using it are unable to move freely. ] may get worse. Many people will drive their cars into the city centre to get to work.

It is compounded by people being brought into city on large roads or motorways. These roads then link up with smaller, older, narrower roads in the city centre. This causes a bottleneck and congestion.

Some cities have tried to manage this problem by introducing traffic management schemes. These schemes may include:

  • park and ride schemes
  • cycle lanes
  • congestion charging schemes, such as those in Durham and London
  • car-pooling, as used in the USA, to encourage people to share cars
  • Low Emission Zones, as in London

Local councils have also tried to make the roads in urban areas safer by introducing traffic calming [traffic calming: Schemes that aim to reduce the speed of road traffic. For example, constructing speed bumps and narrowing the road. ], pedestrian zones, vehicle-exclusion zones and permit-only parking schemes.

Reducing congestion in cities

Park and Ride scheme operating in Plymouth

Park and Ride scheme operating in Plymouth

The introduction of Park and Ride schemes. People park in car parks on the edge of a settlement and catch regular buses into the centre.
Pedestrian shopping streets, Liverpool

Pedestrian shopping streets, Liverpool

Pedestrianised areas are designated as 'pedestrian only' zones.
Permit holder parking in Westminster

Permit holder parking in Westminster

Permit holder parking - certain parts of the city, particularly near the centre, are designated as permit parking only. This means that people must have a permit to park in that area. This reduces the number of people driving in to towns and cities as parking opportunities are restricted.
Vehicle exclusion sign

Vehicle exclusion sign

Vehicle exclusion zones - certain types of vehicles are excluded from certain parts of a city, eg large vehicles may not be allowed to enter narrow roads or residential areas.
Taxi cabs on a New York street

Taxi cabs on a New York street

Car pooling - people are encouraged to share cars. This has been used in a lot in the USA.
Speed bump in a residential area in London

Speed bump in a residential area in London

Traffic calming - roads narrowing and speed bumps make traffic move slower around narrower streets. Narrow roads may restrict the type of vehicle that can enter certain parts of the city.

Problems of urbanisation in the inner city - inequalities

Inequalities exist in all urban areas. Inequality means extreme differences between poverty and wealth, as well as in peoples' wellbeing and access to things like jobs, housing and education. Inequalities may occur in:

  • housing provision
  • access to services
  • access to open land
  • safety and security

Often people who live in inner-city areas experience a poor quality of life. This is because the inner-city is typically a zone with older housing and declining industry. The diagram below compares the quality of life for someone living in an outer London borough with that of someone who lives in an inner London borough.

Graph showing quality of life in Outer London

Graph showing quality of life in Outer London

Graph showing quality of life in Inner London

Graph showing quality of life in Inner London

Unemployment and incidents of long-term illness are higher in the inner-city boroughs, while households are more likely to have central heating and multiple cars in the outer-city boroughs.

Governments and planners [planners: Officially appointed people responsible for making decisions about development and reconstruction. ] often step in to help redevelop [redevelop: To restore or develop an area again. ] run-down inner-city areas. Inner-city redevelopments, such as those in London's Docklands or Manchester's Salford Quays, may improve the physical environment of the area and improve the quality of housing. But it can also create even greater inequalities because the local residents may not be able to afford to live there anymore. Often the old industrial jobs are replaced by skilled jobs and new people move to the area.

Changes at the urban rural fringe

Demand for housing

'For Sale' signs outside a house

'For Sale' signs outside a house

Social and demographic [demographics: The study of population statistics. It measures trends and tracks changes in births, deaths and migration. ] changes are leading to a greater demand for housing. People are living longer, and choosing to marry later, and in recent years there has been a rise in the number of single-parent families. Added to this, the UK is experiencing immigration from other countries, for example from Eastern Europe, as countries like Poland are now members of the EU. The result is an ever-larger number of smaller households, all requiring accommodation.

However, building new, affordable homes in urban areas is difficult. Land values are very high and land is in short supply.

Out of town retail centres

Regional shopping centres, such as Cribbs Causeway near Bristol, are often built on land in the urban rural fringe. Their location allows easy access to transport routes. There is also room for car parking. The land is cheaper here than in the city centre.

Hotels, conference centres and science parks

Modern technology gives firms a freer choice of location. Hi-tech industries [hi-tech industry: An industry which is on the cutting edge, for example Pharmaceuticals or electrical goods. ], located in science parks, are attracted by good transport links. The areas can offer pleasant landscaped environments, with less traffic problems and pollution.

Sewage works and landfill

Urban centres cannot dispose or treat their own waste as the land is limited. Therefore space is used outside of urban area.

Brownfield and Greenfield sites

The UK is short of suitable housing. Approximately 3 million new homes are needed by 2030. They need to be built somewhere. The options are using Brownfield sites or Greenfield sites.

Brownfield sites

Derelict pottery factory

A derelict industrial pottery site, due to be redeveloped

  • Are often on disused [disused: No longer in use. ] or derelict [derelict: Neglected or abandoned. ] land.
  • Are more available in the North and Midlands (but most housing demand is in the south east).
  • Are valuable as existing buildings can be split up into more homes on any one site.
  • The site has already been developed so reduces urban sprawl [urban sprawl: The spread or expansion of the urban area into the surrounding countryside. ].
  • Use unsightly areas for building developments, so improves the urban environment.
  • Are found in urban areas, so building housing there reduces demand on car use.
  • Are more expensive to build on as often the land needs to be cleared first (especially if land is contaminated [contamination: When the material becomes impure or unclean. ] from previous industrial use).

Greenfield sites

Housing development

A residential housing development at Priors Park, Tewkesbury, Gloucester.

  • Are sites which have not previously been built on. This includes the greenbelt land around cities.
  • Are cheaper to build on.
  • Are not favoured by environmentalists, as it encourages urban sprawl.
  • will mean that countryside is built on.
  • Encourage commuting and traffic congestion as people travel into urban areas from the countryside.

Sustainable cities

Many people are working towards trying to make cities more sustainable [sustainable: Doing something in a way that minimises damage to the environment and avoids using up natural resources, eg by using renewable resources. ]. A sustainable city offers a good quality of life to current residents but doesn't reduce the opportunities for future residents to enjoy.

Key features of a sustainable city

  • Resources and services in the city are accessible to all
  • Public transport is seen as a viable alternative to cars
  • Public transport is safe and reliable
  • Walking and cycling is safe
  • Areas of open space are safe, accessible and enjoyable
  • Wherever possible, renewable resources are used instead of non-renewable [non-renewable: A resource that cannot be replaced when it is used up, such as oil, natural gas or coal. ] resources
  • Waste is seen as a resource and is recycled wherever possible
  • New homes are energy efficient
  • There is access to affordable housing
  • Community links are strong and communities work together to deal with issues such as crime and security
  • Cultural and social amenities are accessible to all
  • Inward investment is made to the CBD

A sustainable city will grow at a sustainable rate and use resources in a sustainable way.

Case study: Masdar City in Abu Dhabi

Ariel view of proposed Masdar City masterplans

Ariel view of proposed Masdar City masterplan Credit: Masdar City

Masdar City aims to be one of the world's most sustainable [sustainable: Doing something in a way that minimises damage to the environment and avoids using up natural resources, eg by using renewable resources. ] urban developments powered by renewable [renewable: A resource which is generated from sources which are not finite or exhaustible. For example, wave power, wind power, solar power or geothermal energy are renewable energy sources. ] energy. It aims to do this by:

  • Ensuring a low carbon footprint [carbon footprint: The amount of carbon generated from activities people do. ] during and after its construction.
  • Being completely powered by renewable energy.
  • Reducing waste to as near to zero as possible, through encouraging changes in behaviour and regulating materials which can be present in the city.
  • Leading research and education into sustainable technology.
  • Designing the city streets and buildings to help create comfortable environments reducing the need for air conditioning, heating, and artificial light.
  • Educating three quarters of the 40,000 residents with 5 hours of sustainability education each year.
  • Leading research at its university to ensure the city retains its sustainable identification and leading knowledge in sustainable living.
  • Full pedestrianisation within the city, without vehicles in the space. The transport network would be below ground.

Case study: Whitehill Bordon, an Ecotown in the UK

In 2009 the UK Government named four towns as "eco-towns". The towns receive some government funding and are granted eco-town status on the basis of the potential for achieving a high level of sustainability. The funding aims to provide:

  • affordable housing
  • sustainable living
  • carbon neutral developments
  • creative use of waste and high rates of recycling
  • employment which is local
  • locals have a say in the development
  • there must be local services and schools, so less demand for use of cars

Whitehill Bordon is one example. It was given eco-town status in 2009.

  • Around £10 million was given by the government. This money funded many local projects.
  • MOD land (a brownfield site) will be converted into an exhibition house informing residents about how low carbon living can work. The grounds will be designed to encourage local wildlife and grow food.
  • Energy saving measures have been started in public buildings. The redeveloped fire station is to have a biomass [biomass energy: Energy made from biological materials such as wood, waste or alcohol. ] boiler.
  • Free wi-fi in the town centre will enable communities to join together.
  • Free loft insulation is given to householders to help save energy.
  • Over 50 green spaces around and within the town are identified to protect and enhance wildlife. A broadwalk, made from recycled materials, is being built.
  • Eco-grants are available to local businesses to help reduce their carbon footprint [carbon footprint: The amount of carbon generated from activities people do. ].
  • The initiative hopes to create 5,500 jobs by 2028.
  • There is a strong link with the community - with local consultations and representatives.
Whitehall-Bordon, an ecotown in East Hampshire

An article on the Whitehall Bordon ecotown in East Hampshire

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