Urban areas occupy less than 1 per cent 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.
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