|Chapter 37: The urban stress — The problem|
Important changes in the quality of the urban environment have occurred in Europe in the last few decades. Despite the progress achieved in controlling local air and water pollution, urban areas show increasing signs of environmental stress (Chapter 10). Major concerns for European cities are the quality of air, acoustic quality and traffic congestion. Open spaces and green areas are under continuous threat due to more competitive uses of limited land resources. The quality of life in cities is also affected by the deterioration of buildings and infrastructure and the degradation of the urban landscape. On the other hand, cities absorb increasing amounts of resources and produce increasing amounts of emissions and waste, causing significant burdens on the regional and global environment. A summary of major urban environmental problems in Europe is presented in Box 37A. These problems are warning signals of a more deep-seated crisis, and call for a rethink of current models of organisation and urban development.
Symptoms of environmental stress in cities become evident when the quality of environmental components and their effects on the health and quality of life of the urban population are examined. However, the causes of urban stress can be understood only when examining how cities work and how their spatial organisation affects their environmental performance. The quality of the urban environment is a result of the interactions of many interdependent variables and between urban activities and city structure. The impact of urban activities on the local environment is not the sum of each effect taken individually. In cities, people are exposed simultaneously to the concentrations of pollutants into the air, water and soil. Synergies among these factors generate environmental stress. Addressing the causes of environmental problems, instead of treating their symptoms, is necessary if current efforts to improve the quality of the urban environment are to succeed.
Urban environmental problems are often referred to as local problems. The high concentration of people and activities in cities is the cause of heavy pressures on the local environment. Local environmental conditions affect the health of the exposed population. However, environmental problems affecting urban areas are closely linked with regional and global problems by their common causes and interdependent effects. Urban air pollution is linked to acidification, photochemical smog and climate change through the emissions of atmospheric pollutants from the burning of fossil fuels. As cities deplete their local resources and increase their dependence on imported global resources, they become more vulnerable to the effects of global environmental change. On the other hand, the implementation of measures to improve the urban environment have corresponding beneficial effects on the regional and global environment.
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