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Chapter 10: The urban (eco)system — Summary

Many concerns for the state of the environment first developed in urban areas where changes in environmental conditions began to affect human health. Today, virtually all cities share concern for the quality of their environment. It is also in cities that many regional and global environmental problems originate. Concerns for the sustainability of cities have increased rapidly, as it has become evident that the environmental challenges of the future will be confronted in an increasingly urbanised world (Box 10A).

As part of ecological systems, cities affect and are affected by natural cycles. Cities depend on the availability of natural resources. They import water, energy and materials which are transformed into goods and services and ultimately returned to the environment in the form of emissions and waste. Their high concentration of people and activities make cities major contributors to local, regional and global environmental change. On the other hand it is the same concentration of people that provides unique opportunities for economies of scale and resource conservation. Thus, it is in cities that many environmental problems can be effectively addressed and resolved.

This chapter analyses the quality of the urban environment in Europe. The flows of natural resources that sustain cities are described to illustrate the interdependence between urban systems and the regional and global environment. Current patterns of urban development are examined in relation to the degree of pollution and exploitation of natural resources. An experimental set of urban environmental indicators are used to identify major urban environmental problems in a selected number of European cities and to assess regional differences and priorities (Map 10.1). Finally, the options for improving the urban environment and successful examples in several European cities are examined.

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