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date: 27 September 2020

Summary and Keywords

At the beginning of the 21st century more than 50% of the world’s population lived in cities. By 2050, this percentage will exceed 60%, with the majority of growth occurring in Asia and Africa. As of 2020 there are 31 megacities, cities whose population exceeds 10 million, and 987 smaller cities whose populations are greater than 500 thousand but less than 5 million in the world. By 2030 there will be more than 41 megacities and 1290 smaller cities. However, not all cities are growing. In fact, shrinking cities, those whose populations are declining, occur throughout the world. Factors contributing to population decline include changes in the economy, low fertility rates, and catastrophic events. Population growth places extraordinary demand for natural resources and exceptional stress on natural systems. For example, over 13 million hectares of forest land are converted to agriculture, urban land use, and industrial forestry annually. This deforestation significantly affects both hydrologic systems and territorial habitats. Hydrologically, urbanization creates a condition called urban stream syndrome. The increase in storm runoff, caused by urbanization through the addition of impervious surfaces, alters stream flow, morphology, temperature, and water quantity and quality. In addition, leaky sewer lines and septic systems as well as the lack of sanitation systems contribute significant amounts of nutrients and organic contaminants such as pharmaceuticals, caffeine, and detergents. Ecologically, these stressors and contaminants significantly affect aquatic flora and fauna.

Habitat loss is the greatest threat to biodiversity. Urbanization not only destroys and fragments habitats but also alters the environment itself. For example, deforestation and fragmentation of forest lands lead to the degradation and loss of forest interior habitat as well as creating forest edge habitat. These changes shift species composition and abundance from urban avoiders to urban dwellers. In addition, roads and other urban features isolate populations causing local extinctions, limit dispersal among populations, increase mortality rates, and aid in the movement of invasive species. Cities often have higher ambient temperatures than rural areas, a phenomenon called the urban heat island effect. The urban heat island effect alters precipitation patterns, increases ozone production (especially during the summer), modifies biogeochemical processes, and causes stresses on humans and native species.

The negative effect of the expansion and urbanization itself can be minimized through proper planning and design. Planning with nature is not new but it has only recently been recognized that human survival is predicated on coexisting with biodiversity and native communities. How and if cities apply recommendations for sustainability depends entirely on the people themselves.

Keywords: urbanization, megacities, hydrology, deforestation, urban heat island, planning

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