Urban Ecology Essays: Part 1

Posted on Posted in Cities, Urban Ecology

The term urban can be defined quantitatively using statistics or intuitively through observation. If defined using statistics, urban areas have higher population densities and more built infrastructure. Physical representations of this greater density become apparent on a walk through any city. Urban infrastructure, including roads, buildings, sidewalks, and bridges, are organized in recognizable patterns that layer culture, history, and technology. For example, in the Western United States, many cities are laid out in grids that merge commercial, residential, and industrial uses.
Urban areas are often characterized by spatial differentiations in land use. As collections of regions or neighborhoods, a city can harbor incredible diversity within its borders. Some neighborhoods are predominantly residential, some commercial, and many neighborhoods are mixed. Areas of a city also vary by density, so that some areas have greater population and infrastructure density. Thus, within a city’s borders, density and land use alter along gradients that can be gradual or abrupt. For instance, a walk from east to west along L Street in Midtown Sacramento reveals a change from older, middle-density residential blocks, to low- and mid-rise mixed residential and commercial buildings, and finally to taller commercial buildings near the heart of the downtown business district.

To function, a city must integrate the daily needs of its inhabitants, including mobility, space for work, housing, entertainment, and basic needs. The varying needs of populations in cities and towns means that any one area will necessarily have multiple uses. This differs from a rural area or farm, where the collection of human uses in an area may be fewer or even singular. The view along K Street (left) in Sacramento shows how one block tries to integrate multiple uses into a relatively small area. The city recently converted the street area to allow for both cars and light rail service. As a main commercial strip, K Street has many restaurants, theaters, and shops, exemplifying how cities must integrate multiple uses into small areas in order to support the diversity of activities required by citizens.

Within this fabric of infrastructure are collections of plants, animals, and organic materials beyond the concrete, brick, and plastic humans use for construction materials. Even though cities are considered to be human creations, they are bound to the natural environment. Cities are built upon soil and full of plants. Dynamic combinations of natural and human-built objects foster micro-habitats for all sorts of animals. Urban ecology seeks to understand the interactions between natural species, physical infrastructure, and the social processes that take place in a city.

Urban ecology might be most apparent in the parks that are found in most cities. These spaces create small havens for residents, where they can retreat to green spaces for recreation or relaxation. Some of the great urban parks in the U.S., including Central Park in New York City, Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C., and Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, offer residents an enormous diversity of recreational opportunities. More broadly, however, urban ecology goes beyond promoting green spaces to study the ways in which urban design, social processes, geography, and resource flows influence the distribution and evolution of plant and animal species within an urban area.

The view below along 21st Street in Midtown Sacramento shows how a residential area can incorporate trees into the street design to change the aesthetic of the local neighborhood. Called Boulevard Park, the area is a relatively affluent part of Midtown, sporting historic homes amongst towering trees. The “natural” characteristics of the area, especially the tree canopy, contribute to its desirable reputation. At the same time, the distribution of plant species is influenced by both the work of humans (planting) and the reproductive processes of the plants, which function within the boundaries of the area’s geographical and ecological characteristics. Throughout Sacramento, the combination of human and natural processes influences species distribution and diversity to create patch dynamics of unique habitats. Urban ecology seeks to understand how the urban setting influences what species are found where.

Urban ecology also looks at the city as an ecosystem, considering more than species distribution. Plants and animals respond to resource availability, including water and nutrients. Urban ecology seeks to describe hydrologic, climatic, and geophysical processes in cities, and how urban processes and infrastructure influence such processes. As the planet continues to urbanize, this knowledge will be important for established cities in Europe and North America, booming cities in Asia, and bustling cities in Africa. Each city faces challenges within a unique set of ecological and social characteristics. The discipline of urban ecology can contribute to understanding planetary ecosystem dynamics.

The term urban can be defined quantitatively using statistics or intuitively through observation. If defined using statistics, urban areas have higher population densities and more built infrastructure. Physical representations of this greater density become apparent on a walk through any city. Urban infrastructure, including roads, buildings, sidewalks, and bridges, are organized in recognizable patterns that layer culture, history, and technology. For example, in the Western United States, many cities are laid out in grids that merge commercial, residential, and industrial uses. 

 

Urban areas are often characterized by spatial differentiations in land use. As collections of regions or neighborhoods, a city can harbor incredible diversity within its borders. Some neighborhoods are predominantly residential, some commercial, and many neighborhoods are mixed. Areas of a city also vary by density, so that some areas have greater population and infrastructure density. Thus, within a city’s borders, density and land use alter along gradients that can be gradual or abrupt. For instance, a walk from east to west along L Street in Midtown Sacramento reveals a change from older, middle-density residential blocks, to low- and mid-rise mixed residential and commercial buildings, and finally to taller commercial buildings near the heart of the downtown business district.

 

Diversity in land-use and density along L Street in Midtown Sacramento

 

To function, a city must integrate the daily needs of its inhabitants, including mobility, space for work, housing, entertainment, and basic needs. The varying needs of populations in cities and towns means that any one area will necessarily have multiple uses. This differs from a rural area or farm, where the collection of human uses in an area may be fewer or even singular. The view along K Street (left) in Sacramento shows how one block tries to integrate multiple uses into a relatively small area. The city recently converted the street area to allow for both cars and light rail service. As a main commercial strip, K Street has many restaurants, theaters, and shops, exemplifying how cities must integrate multiple uses into small areas in order to support the diversity of activities required by citizens.

 

Within this fabric of infrastructure are collections of plants, animals, and organic materials beyond the concrete, brick, and plastic humans use for construction materials. Even though cities are considered to be human creations, they are bound to the natural environment. Cities are built upon soil and full of plants. Dynamic combinations of natural and human-built objects foster micro-habitats for all sorts of animals. Urban ecology seeks to understand the interactions between natural species, physical infrastructure, and the social processes that take place in a city.

Urban ecology might be most apparent in the parks that are found in most cities. These spaces create small havens for residents, where they can retreat to green spaces for recreation or relaxation. Some of the great urban parks in the U.S., including Central Park in New York City, Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C., and Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, offer residents an enormous diversity of recreational opportunities. More broadly, however, urban ecology goes beyond promoting green spaces to study the ways in which urban design, social processes, geography, and resource flows influence the distribution and evolution of plant and animal species within an urban area.

 

The view below along 21st Street in Midtown Sacramento shows how a residential area can incorporate trees into the street design to change the aesthetic of the local neighborhood. Called Boulevard Park, the area is a relatively affluent part of Midtown, sporting historic homes amongst towering trees. The “natural” characteristics of the area, especially the tree canopy, contribute to its desirable reputation. At the same time, the distribution of plant species is influenced by both the work of humans (planting) and the reproductive processes of the plants, which function within the boundaries of the area’s geographical and ecological characteristics. Throughout Sacramento, the combination of human and natural processes influences species distribution and diversity to create patch dynamics of unique habitats. Urban ecology seeks to understand how the urban setting influences what species are found where.

 

Urban ecology also looks at the city as an ecosystem, considering more than species distribution. Plants and animals respond to resource availability, including water and nutrients. Urban ecology seeks to describe hydrologic, climatic, and geophysical processes in cities, and how urban processes and infrastructure influence such processes. As the planet continues to urbanize, this knowledge will be important for established cities in Europe and North America, booming cities in Asia, and bustling cities in Africa. Each city faces challenges within a unique set of ecological and social characteristics. The discipline of urban ecology can contribute to understanding planetary ecosystem dynamics.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *