An Urban Region Plan for Every City: Landscape Ecology at Work for Society and a Better Future

Authors and Affiliations: 

Richard T. T. Forman, Harvard University

Corresponding author: 
Richard T. T. Forman

While climate change gnaws at the future, population growth and urbanization spread tsunami-like, swiftly and powerfully across the land. The next billion people, all urban, arrive in only 14 years (Forman & Wu 2016a). Globally, the best places for these new neighbors are areas without major environmental constraints (particularly water stress) and high population density (>50 people/km2) (Forman & Wu 2016a; Forman & Wu 2016b ).Within an urban region, of 15 possible places for major population growth, 3 are too dense to create viable communities and 8 degrade nearby food-producing and/or natural land. The 4 most promising places are existing outer suburbs, sprawl areas, satellite cities, and towns/villages in farmland, especially in the framework of an urban region plan (Forman & Wu 2016a; Forman & Wu 2016b).
Urban region plans are inherently strategic, emphasizing large areas and long-term issues of high importance (Forman 2008). They focus on major spatial land-use patterns/processes, highlighting the best and worst areas for sustaining: (1) ample clean water; (2) rich natural biodiversity; (3) good soil and food-producing land; (4) an industrial area(s) with limited pollution; (5) major infrastructural networks; (6) areas for human waste/wastewater, stormwater pollutants, solid waste; and (7) population/housing growth in communities. Hazard areas are mapped, and flexibility provided for future changes and surprises (Forman 2014). The plans outline promising new patterns and improvements of existing agricultural land, natural land, and communities.
Optimally, funding and developing the urban region plan are shared by national, province/state, and city levels (Forman & Wu 2016b). A valuable approach maps major flows within and surrounding the urban region, maps the areas most and least likely to change in the near term, and arranges land uses to fit with these two maps. An urban region plan for Barcelona is briefly mentioned, but such models are scarce (Forman 2008, Forman 2004). An analysis of 38 urban regions worldwide detected surprisingly little evidence of urban region planning (Forman 2008). Indeed, urban region plans are both a research frontier and a key solution for cities and the land.
As strategic forward-looking frameworks for action, urban region plans may include novel multi-functional solutions on the border of feasibility and vision. For example, the netway-with-pods system for the post-road era addresses six major societal goals (Forman & Sperling 2011). Urban region plans require expertise in natural vegetation/ecosystems, agricultural soil/food production, water quantity/quality, jobs, housing, transport, and creating communities (Forman 2014). Landscape ecologists are well situated to collaborate and catalyze urban region plans for every city.


Forman, R. T. T. and Wu, J. (2016). Where are the best places for the next billion people? Think globally, plan regionally. In Handbook on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services in ImpactAssessment, ed. D. Geneletti. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing, pp. 453-472.

Forman, R. T. T. and Wu, J. (2016). Where to put the next billion people. Nature, 537, 608-611.

Forman, R. T. T. (2008). Urban Regions: Ecology and Planning Beyond the City. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.

Forman, R. T. T. (2014). Urban Ecology: Science of Cities. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Forman, R. T. T. (2004). Mosaico territorial para la region metropolitana de Barcelona. Barcelona:
Editorial Gustavo Gili.

Forman, R. T. T. and Sperling, D. (2011). The future of roads: no driving, no emissions, nature reconnected. Solutions, 2(5), 10-23.

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