The world population growth, combined with a relentless migration from rural to urban areas, is causing a severe exploitation of the limited resources of the planet. For example, half of the world, 3 billion people, lives in cities. In one generation, by 2030, they will be 5 billion. Furthermore, we have 20 megacities in the world today, and they will be almost 30 in 2030: It was just one in 1975. This “urban tsunami” is quickly and forcefully spreading across the planet. According to UN projections, population will exceed 9 billion people by 2050.
f course, citizens are concerned about this situation, and Urban Ecology seems to be the only solution for these problems. Urban Ecology studies the relationship of living organisms with each other and with their surroundings in the context of an urban environment. Also, this discipline tries to improve the quality of life of urban inhabitants and control their interactions with the environment and their area ecosystems.
Which solutions does Urban Ecology propose for urban growth? Richard T. T. Forman, PAES Professor of Landscape Ecology at Harvard University and father of Urban Ecology, came to the Master in City Sciences to answer all these questions. According to Forman, Urban Ecology (and Landscape Ecology) is the study of “ecosystems seen from an airplane.”
Urban Ecology around Madrid
MCS students had the chance to attend his lectures and tour the Madrid region profiting from Forman´s vision in the whole route. During this field trip, MCS participants visited Alcala de Henares, El Molar, Colmenar Viejo and Villaba. Also, they could attend his conference that took place on the Architecture building of the UPM.
During these lessons, Forman explained the main foundations of his work: spatial organization, land use, the need to plan urban development on a regional (and not local) level, the importance of “thinking big” and be ambitious and focused on the future, the “trap” of translating to euros every human creation and, eventually, the need of thinking about the landscape as a natural union of city and nature.
Only with these bases the quality of life of people who live in the cities will improve. Citizens like to contact with nature, plants and animals, and cities should provide these places: parks, nice areas with shades and water, pleasant spaces to walk without pollution, small farms close to urban areas with fresh fruit and vegetables, green belts…
Four models of urban growth
According to Forman, there are four different models of urban growth. The first is growing around a transport route, like in classic North American cities, where the population lives around the highways, increasing the use of private cars, asphalt surface, and air pollution. This model is pernicious, and, to improve on it, Forman proposes the creation of electric roads powered by renewable energies.
The second model is the dispersion model, in which the entire population is concentrated in the periphery of the cities, but in a disorderly manner, causing shortages of essential services such as water or public transportation.
The other two possible schemes of growth are much better: the concentric model and the satellite cities model. These models usually have more green areas and provide more quality spaces for people. In addiction, the public transportation system for these models is more efficient in terms of both energy and time. Berlin is a good example of this type of cities. Berlin is also very famous for its forest parks, which reduce pollution, cleaning the air of the city.
However, these urban models should be always surrounded by nature. If this is not done, the effects of floods and landslides could be much worse.
Where do we focus the growth?
Other important point of Forman thinking is the importance of choosing areas in which to focus the urban development. Citizens should decide which areas have more natural resources (like water) and avoid damaging them with urbanization. The best example is the study that Forman currently develops at Harvard University: “Best places for next billion people”, which was presented at MSC conference.
The importance of nature
The importance of nature is critical in Forman´s theories. For example, water table. It affects not only infrastructures and buildings, but also human activity and traffic security. Location of parks, infrastructure or buildings according to land conditions may not only reduce sewer network but increase resilience.
Furthermore, Forman gave us a summary of his class, where he insists on the importance of the education for the future of Smart Cities and urban areas.
“I greatly appreciated the invitation and opportunity to participate in the Master of City Sciences program at the UPM again this year. The students seemed vibrant and interested. I think that they absorbed a lot of Urban Ecology and Landscape Ecology in a short time. Doubtless the diversity of teaching techniques created this success… brief presentations, the field-study trip to a rich array of sites introducing and illustrating concepts, the evening lecture to an impressive and engaged array of knowledgeable people, a brief working exercise on urban parks, and the many opportunities for informal conversations.
Based on briefly immersing the UPM Master of City Sciences students in landscape ecology and urban ecology, the program appears to be a rare opportunity worldwide to catalyze future professionals and leaders who can really improve future urban areas. Beyond traditional planning, architectural and engineering approaches, these talented people gain the foundations for grasping the big pictures, and solving urban-related problems with strong environmental dimensions. Not content with simply housing/jobs/transportation/economic approaches, the program introduces the powerful patterns, processes and changes of nature to underlie compelling environmental and sustainable solutions. Master of City Sciences alumni are positioned to reverse the widespread urban degradations around us, and create a promising future for nature and us”.