History of urbanization and the missing ecology

Thomas Elmqvist, Charles Redman, Stephan Barthel, Robert Costanza

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

30 Scopus citations


In this chapter, we explore the historical dimension of urbanization and why the ecology of urbanization has, until recently, been missing. We discuss the consequences of this for our perceptions of urbanization throughout history and also discuss the emerging reintroduction of ecology and the concept of natural capital into the global discourse on urbanization and sustainability. Humans and the institutions they devise for their governance are often successful at self-organizing to promote their survival in the face of virtually any environment challenge. However, from history we learn that there may often be unanticipated costs to many of these solutions with long-term implications on future societies. For example, increased specialization has led to increased surplus of food and made continuing urban growth possible. But an increased urban–rural disconnection has also led to an alienation of food production from the carrying capacity of the land. While connections and feedbacks with the hinterland that supported growing urban centres were often apparent in the past, this has increasingly been lost in a globalized world. The neglect of a social-ecological perspective and the current disconnect between the urban and the rural risks mean that important feedback mechanisms remain invisible, misinforming policy and action with large consequences for global sustainability. We argue that through reintroducing the social-ecological perspective and the concept of natural capital it is possible to contribute to a redefi nition of urban sustainability through making invisible feedbacks and connections visible.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationUrbanization, Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services
Subtitle of host publicationChallenges and Opportunities: A Global Assessment
PublisherSpringer Netherlands
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9789400770881
ISBN (Print)9789400770874
StatePublished - Jan 1 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General Environmental Science


Dive into the research topics of 'History of urbanization and the missing ecology'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this