Sociology of the Urbanization and Environment

Sociology of the Urbanization and Environment

In the 21st century, the world is hallmarked by modern urbanization. The society is now more inclined to urban living more than ever in the history of the world. Advancement in technology has led to huge infrastructures and economic developing. Consequently, most of the people living in the rural areas are attracted to live in urban areas for the search of better and the desire to enjoy better facilities. According to Li & Ma (2014), “the process of urbanization is accompanied by rapid economic growth, relocation of populations from rural areas to cities and towns.” Particularly relocation of people to urban areas led to population increase, which is closely linked to environmental problems. Most urban areas are fancied for economic growth, which is highlighted by the development of secondary and tertiary industries that offer employment to the urban population (York, & Rosa, 2007). However, population influx and economic growth affect the environmental conditions through increased levels of polluting emissions.

The relation between economic growth, population, and urbanization and their impacts on the environment have become an important part subject of focus in the recent past. The urban population has dramatically increased in the last one century, and it is projected that more than 80% of the global inhabitants would be urban dwellers in the next 30 years. The consumption behaviors of the people living in urban areas are different from that of the people living in rural areas. The population in the urban areas consumes more products than the ones consumed in the rural areas. The urban behaviors have an important influence on ecological pressure encouraging the need to address the connection between urbanization and its conforming environmental pressure (Li & Ma, 2014). Urbanization comes with issues of sanitation problems, increased the need for clean water, land consumption, waste disposal, and treatment of wastewater.

In fact, urbanization is mostly driven by technology and concentration of people in one area. However, Clement (2010), assets that, technology and urbanization have a double effect on the society “whereby it both disperses and compacts, both facilitates and frustrates, both preserves life and destroys it, has given rise to every conceivable emotional state and all manner of confusion.” Moreover, Clement asserts that urbanization brings people closer physically but distant them in social contacts. Most scholars agree that urbanization and urban growth lead to environmental degradation (Clement, 2010). One of the earliest environmental sociologists to relate urbanization to ecological and environmental degradation is Anderson. According to Anderson (1976), growth in urban centers and the size of the population is primarily driven by the increase in the desire to make profits. In most case, decentralization of the population does not help in profit maximization; therefore, urbanization, the growth society, and environmental degradation are all connected (Clement, 2010). In the quest to achieve maximum profitability, modern urbanization separated the society from the natural environment leading to disastrous consequences on the society through adverse effects (Clement, 2010).

On the other hand, Dicken asserts that human beings are attached to nature through labor. The claim is relevant in the sense that wealth arises from natural resources and industry concentrated on human activities. Undeniably, industries in urban areas rely heavily on natural resources to create wealth; therefore, there is a close connection between environmental degradation and urbanization. Industries in the urban center’s do articulate rural environmental problems through such as things such as mountaintop removal mining. Moreover, most of the consumers of goods and services produced through raw materials acquired from rural areas are the urban population. According to Clement, (2010) cities house the working class and are the main target markets for produced goods. Moreover, urban centers provide a vital environment for complex production and proliferation of the capitalist ideology (Buttel & Flinn, 1997).

The interdependence between the urban areas and rural further underscores on the connection between urban centers and environmental degradation. Industries in the urban areas exploit resources in rural areas in a bid to maximize profits by meeting the needs of the ever-expanding urban population. Evidently, the needs of the urban population are more compared to rural population and in extension; the urban population has a larger disposable income to purchase the produced goods as compared to the rural community. Therefore, population growth and urbanization work hand in hand in causing environmental degradation. According to Clement population, the pressure in urban areas intensifies competitive aspects of human interaction. Because of population pressure, urbanization puts unnecessary pressure and strain on the natural environment through increased extraction of resources. The increased strain on the natural environment exacerbates the vulnerability of the society to precarious conditions.

Other than intensifying pressure on natural resources, urbanization also, pile pressure on the natural environment through increased pollution. Moreover, according to O’Connor, urbanization requires massive infrastructure projects that alter the state of natural environment affecting soil fertility. In a bid to expand industrial production, the natural environment is destroyed to create space for infrastructures, industrial structures, and extraction of raw material. Urbanization creates externalities that go further to cause the destruction of the natural environment. The capitalist nature of urban centers maximizes profits for industries but create other external costs that are borne by the natural environment and the society. Additionally, a high concentration of population in the urban areas leads to increased consumption of goods and services. Increased consumption, in turn, leads to increased human, animal, and industrial waste that causes environmental pollution. According to York et al. (2008), urbanization is responsible for the largest share of green gas emission. The urban society is more of economic and market-oriented without paying attention to how those activities impact on the environment. York et al. used the case of the collapse of the Soviet Union to indicate how decentralization of the population can be beneficial to the environment According to Clement (2010), the collapse of the Soviet Union led to de-urbanization with a notable reduction in carbon emissions and destruction of the natural environment. The decline in economic activities in urban centers had a significant impact on the environment highlighting the role of urbanization in the society and the environment (York et al., 2008).

The urban population hardly interacts with nature since urban activities alienate them. Therefore, the urbanites pay little attention to the well-being of the natural environment since they have lost contact and value with it. The urban population does not practice agriculture. Most of the products they consume are either produced by the industries in the urban areas or the rural population (Schnaiberg, 1980). Therefore, the urbanites spend little effort to care about the population and activities that degrade the environment. However, according to Clement, environmental degradation is the driving force behind increased urbanization. Availability of resources such as crude oil, natural gas, mineral resource and other raw materials in rural areas enable urban centers to thrive and to expand further. When industries and urban areas expand, they extend degradation of the environment.

Theoretical Approach

The issue of the interconnectedness between urbanization can be analyzed using different theoretical approaches as discussed by various scholars. One of the theories relevant to the study is the functionalism theory. The theory posits that cities serve several important functions to the society, but they are embedded by several dysfunctions that adversely affect the society. Concisely, the theory expounds the merits and demerits that the urbanization advent of the society. One of the major premises of the theory is the augment it lays on the impact of urbanization in creating a sense of social bond through interaction. Societies had metamorphosed from the traditional instances when family, kin and community ties were vital elements in human life to an instance urbanization and industrialization have significantly loosened the social ties that existed in the society. In the city settings, people have become more impersonal, and they are less concerned about the social bond and community ties. However, according to Guest, Cover, Matsueda, & Kubrin, (2006), social ties still exist in urban areas in the sense that people walk and interact in the streets and live in the close neighborhood, which creates a sense of community and ties of social interaction. Contrary, Wirth argue that cities have a weaker social bond as compared to the rural community. However, it is argued that cities provide a better platform for people to be creative and more tolerant of the diversity that exists in the society.

Urbanization has both benefits and challenges to the society. In the urban areas, people can find plenty and better-paying jobs in the than those living in the rural areas. Moreover, people in the urban areas enjoy better facilities such as health, education, and transport facilities that enhance the quality of life. Moreover, women acquire better health facility mitigating the morbidity rates. However, cities also pose a fair share of challenges to people who reside within and outside the cities. The proliferation of population in the cities leads to housing problems. Housing problems are one of the major causes of slum development in the cities. Slums are hallmarked with poor sanitation, security problems, pollution, and inadequate basic services. The poor state of slums is one of the major causes of pollution in towns. Lack of basic things such as water, sanitation facilities, and others exacerbate the rate of pollution in slums making them inhabitable.

The second theory that expounds on the association between urbanization and ecological sociology is the Marx’s metabolic rift theory (Clement, 2010). The theory posits that there is a close interrelation between the rural and urban environmental problem and economic development. O’Connor (1998) posits that capitalist production creates an irreparable rift between town/urban areas and countryside. The interaction that exists between the rural and the urban areas is responsible for the rift that is created between the two areas. The theory underscores that human activities in pursuit of profits are responsible for the increase in degradation of the environment and exploitation of other people’s resources in an attempt to meet the interests of others. Cities entirely depend upon the countryside for raw materials and other resources. The increase in the size of the population in the cities led to the expansion of urbanization and industries in a bid to contain the size of the population.

According to Marx, cities depleted the nutrients in soils in the rural areas taking them to town in the form of raw material. However, the products of the raw material did not return to rural areas in the form of fertilizers but remained in towns in the form of waste causing pollution (O’Connor, 1998). Undeniably, the rate of pollution in urban areas is a major cause of the crisis in the society. Processing of raw of raw materials industries led to greenhouse emissions that play a pertinent role in global warming. The capitalist producer concentrates people in the urban areas in a bid to sustain a viable market for their products. Ultimately, capitalist production practices create a unstainable environment for the society.

Another theory that is relevant to the topic of study is the ecological modernization theory. The theory posits that realignment of economic growth and industrial development can create a sustainable environment with limited adverse effects on the society. The theory advocate for self-enlighten of interests in a bid to create an economy that is mindful of the ecological needs. In a bid to achieve a sustainable environment, the society should use the natural resources in a productive way in for both labor and capital productivity (O’Connor, 1998). In the modern cities, urbanites do not supply food from their pieces of land but rather use their land to expand urbanization. About the ecological modernization theory, expansion of modern cities has had severe direct impacts on the land. According to Huber, sustainable development is achievable through use of clean technology, replacement of hazardous substances in production, production of environmentally friendly substances and efficient use of resources (Clement, 2010). According to the theory, the structure of industrial metabolism is one of the pertinent factors that contribute significantly to the emission of greenhouse gas. Therefore, change in the structure of industrial metabolism will play a major role in alleviating environmental pollution. The rural population has a pertinent role to play in solving the problem of environmental degradation.

Through, modernization, people, businesses, entrepreneurs, markets, and governments can change their approach, attitudes, and perspectives towards environmental conservation. Self-regulation is one of the salient measures that the society should adopt in a bid to achieve sustainable economic growth and quality environment (Clement, 2010). When self-interests take precedence over the needs of others, destruction of environment become a normal thing. Evidently, most capitalists are led by the desires to achieve their self-interests leading to massive environmental destruction. On the contrary, the realization of the need to apply self-regulation is essential in forming a strong foundation towards the realization of a sustainable environment. 

The Case of Kuwait

Kuwait provides a salient example of a country that has experienced many environmental challenges due to rapid urbanization and population growth. After achieving its independence in 1961, Kuwait underwent rapid development leading to increased urbanization, industrialization and population increase in cities. However, rapid development denied Kuwait an ample time to implement planning strategies that would mitigate the effects of development on the environment (Caulton, & Keddie, 1989). The presence of better facilities and employment opportunities in Kuwait has prompted massive rural to urban migration. The urban population in Kuwait is growing at the dramatic rate of 450% in for the last 25 years (Caulton, & Keddie, 1989). Rapid population growth is coupled with the rapid expansion of the urban areas in a bid to contain the growing population and to maximize the benefits that arise from market expansion. Environmental conservation is never the priority in Kuwait during expansion of urban centers owing to the population pressure.

The coastline of Kuwait is an important national resource that provides the country with maritime species and water for domestic and industrial use. However, the coastline has adversely been affected by the growing rate of industrialization and construction of recreational facilities (Caulton, & Keddie, 1989). Moreover, a large part of the coastline has been confiscated for the building of expensive homes thus leaving very little part of the coastline undisturbed. Additionally, manual landscaping has been done further affecting the natural state of the coastal edge.

Other the coastal line, the hinterland has also been severely affected human activities such as oil mining, the establishment of industries, expansion of urban centers and infrastructures supporting the industries. The human activities have led to further desertification of the country. For instance, Al Subiya was a city expanded from the Kuwait City in a bid to contain the growing population in the city (Caulton, & Keddie, 1989).   


There is a big association between urbanization and environmental dilapidation in the world. High population and industrial development characterize the urban areas. The industries rely on raw materials in rural areas in a bid to make goods and services for the urban population. Consequently, the rural areas are exploited for natural resources and raw materials to be used in industries leading to environmental degradation. Moreover, urban areas require heavy infrastructures leading to encroachment of natural environment to create space for establishment of the new infrastructures further leading to environmental degradation. The capitalist nature of urbanite detaches them from the natural environment leading increased destruction of the environment.

Discussion questions

  1. What is the connection between urbanization and the environmental conservation?
  2. Is urbanization responsible for increased environmental degradation in rural areas?
  3. How can the problem of urbanization about environmental degradation be solved?
  4. Does the capitalistic nature of the urbanite isolate them from the natural environment?
  5. Which theories perfectly explain the relationship between urbanization and environment?


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York, R., & Rosa, E. A. (2007). Environment and urbanization. In G. Ritzer (Ed.), The Blackwell encyclopedia of sociology (Vol. III, pp. 1423-1426). Oxford, England: Blackwell

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