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Pollution and Urbanization

Urbanization has been increasing exponentially all over the world, and with that, the concern of skyrocketing pollution rates has also risen. With more and more people migrating to cities in search of jobs and a better standard of living, total global city populations have increased drastically over the past 75 years - from 751 million in 1951 to 4.2 billion in 2018. Cities containing greater numbers of people lead to increased pollution, right? Actually, maybe not. In this article, I’d like to explain why urbanization does not actually have the effect on pollution rates many tend to think it might and how urbanization may be in fact more beneficial to the environment in many cases.

Urbanization, as defined by Oxford, is an “increase in the proportion of a population living in urban areas and the process by which an area loses its rural character and way of life”. Many people attribute the growth of city settings to the rising pollution levels we are experiencing, but this simply isn’t the reality we face. According to an op-ed published on the Asian Development Bank website, “Asian urban productivity is more than 5.5 times that of rural areas. The same output can be produced using fewer resources with urban agglomeration than without.” What this quote is telling us is that urban areas are far more efficient than rural areas. Urban areas are dense and business and clients don’t have to travel long distances to reach their destinations. This allows for manufacturers to create much more output than they normally would if set in a rural setting. This leads to a smaller carbon footprint on the environment. The service sector - businesses that provide services such as hair salons, massages, spas, catering, etc. - also require their clients to be in a generally compact setting. Through urbanization, clients in a city will travel much shorter distances to go to their local hospital than would clients in rural areas who would have to travel significantly farther distances. This fact is proven by an article published by Pew Research Center that states “Rural Americans live an average of 10.5 miles from the nearest hospital, compared with 5.6 miles for people in suburban areas and 4.4 for those in urban areas, according to a new Center analysis.” Shorter travel distances significantly decrease greenhouse gas output, and we can see that the urban setting does, in fact, possess this trait. On top of all this, an article published in the CATO Institute states “electricity use per person in cities is lower than electricity use per person in the suburbs and rural areas. Condensed living space that creates a reduction in energy use also allows for more of the natural environment to be preserved.” In the suburban and especially in the rural setting, properties are much farther spread out than in the urban setting leading to further commute distances and increased carbon output. This proves that urbanization may not harm the environment as much as we may suspect.

Keeping all of this in mind, we must also understand that this is not the case everywhere in the world and urbanization may in fact have a negative impact in certain areas. The point I am making is that we shouldn’t be blaming urbanization - something that is inevitable - for the troubles we’re facing with our environment. We need to be focusing our attention on things we can actually stop to help save our environment. This starts with something as simple as walking to a location close to your home or biking through the city setting if and when possible. In fact, an article published in states “Research suggests choosing to walk a short journey instead of traveling in a car can have significant advantages for the environment over a year. It has been calculated that completing five trips of 2km a week on foot instead of a car can decrease the amount of emissions by 86kg a year.” We have to realize that change starts with us. We cannot rely on anyone and anything but ourselves to make the changes we need to save our environment.

Overall, we must stop blaming urbanization for the decaying of our environment as urbanization doesn’t have the outrageously negative effect on the environment than conventional wisdom states it does, and we must start taking the action on things we can actually control to help our environment. I hope you will join me in this fight for our future.


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