How Urbanization Harms the Environment

Photo by Yusuf Onuk on Unsplash

Cities have their pros and cons for people and communities, but they are not always ideal for the environment or wildlife. While people can take steps to help, such as taking a Chicago car service to move them around when they need a ride (instead of owning a car) and walking whenever possible, it isn’t perfect. 

Not everyone is aware of exactly how urbanization and cities affect the environment though, and why cities are worse than some other areas where humans reside. 

The Negative Impact Urbanization Has on the Environment

Cities are often known as consumption centers. Though they only make up about 3% of the world’s surface, they have far-reaching environmental implications. Because there are so many people in one location, consuming and creating waste, the negative effects of city pollution and worsening air quality can be clearly seen affecting oceans and forests. This is true regardless of whether those cities are in developed or developing countries. There’s been some research that suggests that around 75% of the total energy consumption and 80% of emissions of greenhouse gasses are generated in cities, despite only being a small portion of the earth’s surface.

Cities can negatively impact all parts of the environment, and sometimes in ways that others don’t even think about. For example, common problems that cities cause are damage to water basins, excess waste, contaminated soil, air, water, noise, and light pollution, and the disruption of wildlife corridors. 

Water Basins

Urban settings need a lot of water. Often, they need more water than what is available in the local area and aquifers. The solution to this problem is often to ship the water from somewhere else. 

The process of moving water often involves destroying current natural water pathways, including diverting rivers, draining lakes, and creating reservoirs. So not only are animals deprived of water in areas where cities are but in surrounding areas as well, as more and more water is pulled and stored for city use. 

There are other problems with diverting rivers and building reservoirs as well. They can cause harm to certain animals that depend on them, and travel the same paths year after year. Reservoirs are commonly used for human sport as well as water storage, such as swimming, boating, and rafting, which they should not be. This leads to a higher amount of human-wildlife conflicts as they are all forced to meet in a small space. 


Trash and landfill waste are bad, and pretty much everyone knows it. Products that get thrown away tend to end up in oceans, causing fish and animals to die as they try to eat something inedible or get tangled in the trash. 

However, the unfortunate side of this is that no one really has a solution. There is a lot of waste and trash, and even if people reduce their use, we still have landfills with garbage that will take hundreds of years to break down. 


Cities produce all sorts of pollution. The most well-known are air and water. This is because it more obviously affects people and is more visible to the general eye. You can see the trash in your water and colors changing, and you can see when smog is so heavy from pollution that visibility is low, setting off health warnings in big cities. 

However, there are other forms of pollution that bother animals more than they bother us. Light pollution is one such problem. Though we notice light pollution, due to our lack of being able to see the stars at night, we don’t realize the impact it has on the environment. 

Animals aren’t adjusted to lights at night, and there have been cases where animals mistake the lights we have created for the moon. For example, the 9/11 memorial has been shown to pose danger to over 160,000 birds per year, even throwing many of them off of their normal migratory habits. 

Soil pollution is another problem we don’t actually see, but can harm both us and the plants and animals nearby. Some of the most common pollutants are heavy metals, oil, and hydrocarbons. These often come from activities like mining, industrial waste, and emissions from coal, vehicles, and from cigarettes. 

These pollutants have been shown to cause health issues like asthma and cancer in people, and may cause similar issues in animals. Plants are often unable to grow in the ground or may be dangerous to eat.  

Finally, there is noise pollution. This is something more recently studied. This is because while it affects us, it is subtle, and we hadn’t realized how much it harmed animals until the last few decades. Even noise levels that humans can’t hear have been found to harm animals, like the sounds of boats and submarines causing whales to beach themselves. Generally, any sound over 65 decibels is considered pollution.  

Some recent studies have even shown that noise pollution can lead to issues with breeding, and throw off migratory patterns. In people, it can cause health problems like anxiety, depression, headaches, heart attacks, high blood pressure, and insomnia. 

Migratory Patterns

Animals have established migratory patterns that they follow from generation to generation. Whether they are prey, predator, or flying animals, they all tend to follow the same cycles and have done so for millennia.

Our urbanization can cause mass casualties as – perhaps unwillingly – we have built right on these corridors. Not only does a city take up a lot of space and prevent bigger and migratory animals from passing through, but our roads to and from cities also cause wildlife casualties. 

Steps are being taken to mitigate this, but it isn’t perfect or feasible everywhere. These solutions are called wildlife corridors and they are essentially highways that are designed for animals. They tend to work best for smaller animals but have been somewhat effective with species such as deer.

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