How can urban living be sustainable? - Human Geography Essay Example

Urban living means living in a city or town or a densely populated area - How can urban living be sustainable? introduction. A sustainable city is an urban area where residents have a way of life that will last a long time. The environment suffers minimal damage, economic, historic and social factors should also be able to stand the test of time. However one area or building can be sustainable and eco-friendly but the scale is only very small so isn’t a lot of use in the long run. In cities and towns presently and in the future, we will have a number of issues facing us to make a sustainable city.

Some of these issues are; waste disposal, efficient public transport, housing, energy supplies, supporting local businesses and protecting our natural environment. Waste Disposal Waste disposal is one of the biggest issues facing us. The only reason it is an issue is because there is too much waste. We are running out of ways to dispose it; that is suitable, cheap and sustainable. At the moment, each person throws away about 450kg of rubbish yearly. This means that over 111 million tonnes of rubbish end up in landfill sites around the UK.


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Landfill is the most common method of disposing waste; over 64% of our bin rubbish ends up in a landfill site (excluding industrial, business, and hospital waste). A landfill is carefully structured to isolate it from the surrounding environment (groundwater etc). To do this the often have a bottom liner, made out of either clay (called a sanitary landfill) or a plastic liner (MSW landfill). Greengairs landfill site in Scotland is the biggest in Britain and Europe with over 750,000 tonnes being dumped each year. However landfills have two major problems being there is too much rubbish and they releases 27% of Britain’s methane emissions.

To try and solve this problem, one of the methods used is incineration. Incineration is the second largest disposal method in the UK. Incineration is the burning of waste, harmful gases are often given off in this but some modern incinerators uses this wasted energy to convert it to electricity. Cyclamax is planning to build an incinerator in Dronfield however there is a petition going on to stop this because they say it will affect 19 schools and 30,000 people who are in a 2 mile radius from the site. As you can see, this is not a popular waste disposal method as it can damage health, cause extra traffic in local areas and pollution.

There are other methods of waste disposal (anaerobic digestion) however recycling is becoming more and more popular. Recycling is the collection and subsequent reprocessing of products such as paper, aluminium cans, plastic etc. Benefits of recycling are; it saves money in production and energy costs, it helps save the environment and it creates new jobs. Problems of recycling are; they are no efficient ways of recycling, economically it costs more to recycle then to make a brand new product and there are not enough recycling facilities in the UK.

To solve some of these problems, I think they should build more recycling plants, stop producing so much packaging and the government should give grants to companies who use recycled materials. The easiest and simplest solution is to stop producing so much packaging as that would drastically cut down on the amount of waste in Britain anyway. Public Transport Public transport is a key factor in any town or city in the world. As more and more people try and commute to work, it is vital to have a good public transport system. A public transport system is transport available to anyone.

However there are often problem with public transport like being too expensive, having long delays, over crowded and run down facilities. Towns and cites always have more than one public transports system. Take London for example there are: trains, the tube, buses, bike lanes, boats and taxi’s. On top of all this there are cars (private transport). In Curitiba, Brazil there main transport is buses. Curitiba has an extremely effective public transport service because buses are on separate roads from cars to avoid traffic and delays. Also so many people use them; it can afford to have cheap prices.

On the other hand this makes it extremely crowded even though they are 1,100 buses which make around 12,000 trips a day. The facilities are very good with bus stops designed to create the most efficient on boarding and offloading. The 10 bus companies which run the buses collaborate with the government. The public sector concerns like safety and accessibility are combined with private sector goal like low maintenance and operating costs. In Britain public transport companies used to receive subsidies within local councils like Sheffield city council to provide low fares and better service.

However the conservatives privatised the companies and it has caused some of the problems facing us today. I think we should copy the Brazilian format especially in London, Birmingham and Edinburgh, and collaborate with the government to create an all-round better bus service. Housing In this paragraph, we will be addressing the issue of housing. As more and more people emigrate to towns and cities, we don’t have enough space and money to house them. Historically, towns and cities used to build terraced houses.

Terraced houses are built in a grid like pattern and were over-crowded, cheap and they tried to build as many as possible. Especially in areas like Manchester and Sheffield in the industrial revolution (North/South divide). They were often badly designed and had no or few neighbourhood amenities. However they worked. The housed a large number of people in a small space. The government in Britain then decided to build flats and tower blocks. The architects went around the world to places like Sweden and America to find the best design. This would have worked if they spent more money on them.

Instead (as it was post war) they decided to build them cheaply. A good example would be the Park Hill Flats in Sheffield. They were built very cheaply and people quickly decided they don’t want to live in them. 30 years on and these flats are now a Grade 2 listed building according to English Heritage! To solve the issue of housing, I do think that we need to draw upon our cultural heritage like the Park Hill Flats. If we build flats and houses that were energy efficient, well designed, that seemed spacious and spent money on them. I think we could house more people.

A new government idea is to start building “eco-towns”. 10 spots around the UK (mainly in the southern part) have been chosen as zero carbon developments. In my opinion, this is a good idea in theory as according to Caroline Flint (the housing minister); they will be built to the highest standard. However, some of the sites are going too be built on green belt land. We should be protecting the natural environment and wildlife. Building, even if it’s zero carbon, is not protecting the environment. What I think they should do, is redevelop all the empty houses we’ve already got!

This creates space without ruining green belt land, the redeveloped houses should be sustainable (even though it’s on a small scale) and it protects wildlife and countryside! Energy Energy supplies have always been a problem for Britain. This is because it’s expensive; you need a lot of labour and impacts on health. In the Victorian times; they used coal as there main energy supply. In this process, they sent workers down mines to dig coal (a fossil fuel) and then burnt it in fires. Over 200 years, the process very much stayed the same; except they burn the coal for electricity instead of heat.

However in the 1980’s Margaret Thatcher decided that coal was not an efficient and viable energy source. In the next decade, there were numerous miners’ strikes, blackouts and political debates between Margret Thatcher and Arthur Scargill. Inevitably though most of the mines were closed. I think that Margret Thatcher was (in the long run) right because some of the mines were running out of coal, there are more efficient energy supplies and of the amount of health problems it causes, on the other hand it caused a lot of unemployment to people whose only skills were only of working down the mines.

As many of them quit school at 14 and started working in mines with no qualifications. An example of the heath problems was the smog in Industrial towns like Sheffield, from the coal burning in factories. Smog is made up of pollutants which causes asthma, heart and lung conditions, allergies, cancer and makes buildings dirty. My Grandma can remember the smog in Sheffield and says that a lot of classmates and friends suffered from asthma. This is because children breathe more and faster than adults. In 1952, the government first introduced the clean air act.

In 1968, new legislation improved the clean air act stating the use of taller chimneys to better disperse pollution and some filters. Nowadays air quality has to be less than 100 i??g m-3 not to be exceeded more than 10 times a year in Ozone and other pollutants. After the shut down of coal mines and the improvements in the clean air act, the air quality drastically improved. However in Sheffield city centre, the air quality has been regularly exceeding the “safe” amount of pollutants recently. Leading experts have hypothesized that is due to increase of cars.

Cars are run by petrol (oil) which is a fossil fuel. Fossil Fuels cannot be sustainable because they damage the environment, supplies are running out and Britain imports most of its oil except for the north sea oil and a couple of oil fields, this is not viable as it doesn’t provide economic sustainability and jobs for local people. As oil can no longer be a major energy source, people have been looking at other methods like nuclear and renewable. To be a perfect sustainable city, all of your energy would have to come from renewable energy.

Renewable energy is energy generated from natural resources which doesn’t create greenhouse gases and pollutants. Examples of renewable energy are; sunlight, wind, wave, geothermal, etc. Solar energy is growing in popularity; solar basically converts solar radiation into electricity by photovoltaic solar panels. Many people believe that solar power can answer the energy crisis however in Britain it wouldn’t be a viable resource (especially on a large scale) because of the amount of sunlight we get. On the other hand, in places near the equator like Africa and Brazil, it would be perfect.

Wind energy uses wind turbines to generate electricity; offshore wind farms provide over 90% more electricity than onshore wind farms. Scotland’s wind turbines generate on average a capacity factor of 52% whilst European wind turbines create 25%. However proposed wind farms in the Yorkshire dales and peak district have had campaigners arguing that it ruins the beauty and characteristics of national parks. Wave or Hydroelectric has been around for hundreds of years in the use of water mills and some dams. It is a simple process of channelling water to turn a water wheel. The more water channelled and the faster the currant; the better.

I think this would be quite a sustainable energy source for Britain as we are surrounded by the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean and have a considerable amount of lakes. Geothermal energy converts the heat from inside the earth into electricity mainly through steam. However to get to this renewable energy source, you need to be in geographical areas of the world such as Iceland, New Zealand, the Philippines etc. I don’t think it’s possible for at this moment of time for a city to use only renewable energy in Britain, however in Scotland, I think they have the best chance.

They wouldn’t be able to use only one type of renewable energy but they could generate enough energy from wind and hydroelectric combined in the near future. Another energy source is nuclear energy. Nuclear Energy is meant to be better for the environment than using fossil fuels but it is still not a sustainable energy source. Nuclear power is the fission (splitting) of atoms in controlled nuclear reactions to create steam to generate electricity. Nuclear energy is very expensive and requires skilled workers, however compared to renewable energy which is very unreliable and unstable; you can create more energy and control the amount better.

On the other hand renewable energy is zero carbon and only uses natural resources. Some major flaws of Nuclear energy are; that enough exposure to the radioactive waste damages health and can shorten your life span, the waste has to be disposed properly otherwise it damages the natural environment like killing trees, contaminating water and causing birth defects in animals and humans and you have to mine for elements like Uranium. Globally Nuclear energy is on a decline however the fossil fuels will run out. When they do, to provide the energy we need, I think we will have to use Nuclear energy.

Because we haven’t got the global logistics and skills to rely solely on renewable energy but for a city to be sustainable it will be possible. I mentioned eco-cities in a previous paragraph and I think they will be using a variety of renewable energy source especially offshore wind farms. Conclusion In my conclusion, I do think that urban living will be sustainable in a few years because we do have the technology, money and resources available. I do not necessarily think it will be in England, due to how fast progress is in developments and how heavily we still relying on other countries in energy supplies.

I think one of the first sustainable cities will be in Brazil or Scotland. I think this because they have good infrastructures and natural resources. Economically, Scotland and Brazil are more a less even but in historically and culturally Scotland is ahead. Also Scotland has better education and a smaller population which will definitely make it easier. However scale wise, I don’t think it will be possible to create a completely eco friendly and sustainable country, in the near future.

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