top of page

Green Urban: an interdisciplinary challenge

“Two trends are likely to define the 21st century: threats to the sustainability of the natural environment and dramatic increases in urbanization.”, write Annissa Alusi and her colleagues in an essay aptly titled “Sustainable Cities: Oxymoron or the Shape of the Future?” While the sustainability of the natural environment is the focus of ecological studies, cities must not be ignored. Cities, to many, correlate with clusters of people living in limited space, pollution (of any kind), and antonyms of nature. The city is the human, opportunity, and motion; while nature is beast, calm, and free. While these definitions are not universal, they all point to the sharp contrast between the city and nature. This contrast started to emerge with the industrial revolution; As cities became more and more industrial and crowded, the yearning to return to nature also grew with it.

Urban ecologists, sociologists, and urban planners of our time are trying to close this gap by building “sustainable cities.” But “environment” can have different meanings depending on the discipline. Sociologists define the “environment” as the social conditions humans have created, anthropologists concentrate on interactions centered on subsistence activities, and biologists frequently consider human involvement in an ecosystem a “disturbance.” Charles L. Redman emphasizes that to understand the “built environments,” that is, the cities, ecologists must start to understand “the fundamental ‘drivers’ behind biological and geological processes.” And the first stage in this integration process is to acknowledge the biological, geological (including climate), and human (both social and engineering) influences.

Urban greening, on the other hand, shows that it is the urban planners and sociologists that need a basic ecological understanding to create places with a high priority on preserving and promoting biodiversity in urban areas. Prime examples being the “green roofs” and “green buildings”, the subject of much government attention in recent years. But unfortunately, there are few studies about the extent of green roofs’ contribution to urban biodiversity conservation. This gap of knowledge in the literature, plus the insufficient understanding of some engineers, policymakers, and social scientists about biodiversity and ecology, may cause these green spaces to be “ecological traps.” For example, “for highly mobile insect species such as bees and weevils, the number of green roofs within an area increases their connectedness as a habitat type.” but their significance as habitat is diminished by their increasing exposure to wind and solar radiation on higher buildings.

To conclude, it doesn’t matter whether the mentioned problems refer to the urban or, as a more limited concept, the city. In their many forms, climate change and pollution emerged with the industrialization of the urban environment. For a long time, the solutions presented for these issues were short-sighted due to academic egoism between different disciplines. While natural scientists and engineers dig deeper into the reasons for the current crisis, their answers don’t consider factors such as gender, class, and various cultural practices. On the other hand, the solutions presented by social scientists and economists don’t consider nature and its inhabitants and only emphasize people. The problems of our age are, in essence, human and, as a result, require humane solutions to their full extent, dismantling the barriers created by the modern education system and capitalism. After all, harmony between humans and nature should start with harmony in science.

Writer: MohammadAli Ziyaei


Alusi, A., Eccles, R. G., Edmondson, A. C., & Zuzul, T. (2011). Sustainable cities: oxymoron or the shape of the future?. Harvard Business School Organizational Behavior Unit Working Paper, (11-062), 11-062.

Braaker S, Ghazoul J, Obrist MK, Moretti M. 2014. Habitat connectivity shapes urban arthropod communities: The key role of green roofs. Ecology 95: 1010–1021.

Redman, C. L. (1999). Human dimensions of ecosystem studies. Ecosystems, 296-298.

Vega, K. A., & Küffer, C. (2021). Promoting wildflower biodiversity in dense and green cities: The important role of small vegetation patches. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, 62, 127165.

bottom of page