Challenges Of Urban Changes

Urban areas rarely stay the same throughout time. Changes in political, economic, cultural, and environmental conditions shift people around and create new urban landscapes. These landscapes must contend with new and old residents, jobs, services, and interests—in other words, urban change. Urban change brings up an array of problems that require a diverse range of stakeholders and solutions to address them. Let's take a look at what urban changes are and the kinds of challenges that can arise. 

Challenges Of Urban Changes Challenges Of Urban Changes

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Table of contents

    Challenges of Urban Changes in the US

    There are urban changes going on all over the world. As cities grow, jobs change, and policies change, people will move around. This can change the needs for urban infrastructure and services the government and businesses must provide. For instance, if many families decide to have children in one district, the need for schools and parks may grow.

    However, if many people decide to leave a place at once, there won't be as much of a need for public and private services, so funding may be cut and businesses may go elsewhere. This can cause problems for the remaining residents.

    In the US, there are some unique challenges urban changes can bring. Although these are not exclusive to the US, they can be best understood within the US context.

    For the APHG Exam, try to imagine how these challenges look in different parts of the world. Can they be applied in other places or are they just unique to the US?


    Issues that arise with housing are very common in urban changes. For instance, when many people move into a city, prices may go up due to higher demand. Cities must ensure enough housing is available for all the people that want to move in. When there isn't, issues like housing affordability may arise.

    Housing affordability is a measurement of whether housing is deemed affordable (i.e. reasonably priced according to income) for families and individuals. In the US, housing affordability has increasingly become a greater issue. In recent years, a combination of decreased housing construction and an increase in home-buying has reduced available homes. This can also affect rental prices, leading to higher prices throughout the housing market.

    Challenges of Urban Changes Percentage of people living in different types of residency in the US Challenges of Urban Changes in the US StudySmarterFig. 1 - Percentage of people living in different types of residency in the US (2020); the majority of people in the US are homeowners

    As slavery became outlawed globally in the 1800s, many former enslaved people (and other racial minority groups) began to integrate into the Western housing market. These groups often experienced intense discrimination and were left with second-rate housing, jobs, and education. In the US, the Fair Housing Act of 1968 made these practices illegal, but many patterns of discrimination still exist to this day.

    The Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibits the discrimination of sale or financing of housing based on race, ethnicity, religion, sex, or disability.

    Redlining, segregation, and blockbusting have historically limited minority groups from the ability to create wealth in their communities. This continues to be an issue as many US cities continue to be highly segregated with prevalent inequalities in education, jobs, and housing.

    Accessibility to Services

    Accessibility is a growing concern in both urban planning and transportation. This is because the location of your home and how you travel to get to locations can indicate a lot about how accessible things are to you. Accessibility is, therefore, the ability and means to access goods and services.

    For instance, high car dependency in the US can make some services difficult or impossible to access if someone is from a lower-income group and can't afford a car, is too young or too old, or is disabled. A lack of public transportation options increases car dependency even more, leaving few options for people to access services.

    Furthermore, some districts or neighborhoods which have historically been underserved may also experience lower access to services. For instance, especially in lower-income areas in the US, food deserts are a major issue. A food desert is an area with limited access to affordable and healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables.

    Challenges of Urban Growth

    Urban growth is occurring all over the world. Urban populations are increasing rapidly, especially in developing countries. This is largely due to the fact that there are generally more economic and educational opportunities in cities, leading to both rural-to-urban migration and migration in general. Rapid urban growth in developing countries creates unique urban challenges.

    Rural-to-urban migration: movement of people from the rural, agrarian parts of a country to urban areas in and around cities.

    Migration: movement of people, either within a country or internationally.

    Challenges of Urban Changes in the Developing World

    In developing countries, squatter settlements are a major issue. Squatter settlements are residential areas that have developed without legal rights to the land. Squatter settlements may not have proper infrastructure, sanitation and sewage systems, or access to other basic services. These settlements arise out of a lack of affordable housing and rapid population growth that outstrips housing availability.

    Urban land tenure also becomes an issue as all countries have their own land tenure rules and ways they allocate and give rights to the land. Some countries have traditional or customary measures, where unwritten or verbal agreements are made. This can become an issue as urban land becomes more valuable, putting pressure on people and governments to increase land security.

    Challenges of Urban Changes Rodrigo Bueno in Buenos Aires Challenges of Urban Growth StudySmarterFig. 2 - Rodrigo Bueno in Buenos Aires; a squatter neighborhood in one of South America's largest cities

    Disamenity zones, usually the poorest parts of a city which are undesirable due to poor access, high crime, or poor accessibility can also turn into zones of abandonment. Zones of abandonment are areas which have been deserted due to poor economic and/or environmental conditions. These zones can also be sites for squatter settlements, adding to worsening conditions for residents living in these areas.

    Some areas may experience high crime rates as a result of rapid urban growth. Particularly in disamenity zones or squatter settlements, living conditions and quality of life may not be high. Access to education, jobs, and other services may be limited or not available. This can lead to higher crime rates, as people have restricted options for how they can provide for themselves and their families.

    In many cases, cities try to change these areas through urban renewal projects, by clearing squatter settlements, taking over land, and handing it over to developers to build new housing and services. The goal of urban renewal projects is usually to bring new life to cities, especially areas which are not well-connected or are run-down.

    Unfortunately, in many cases urban renewal projects have destroyed and displaced communities, adding more problems for original residents who tend to be low-income. Urban renewal projects don't usually provide adequate support such as increased access to education or jobs for these original residents

    Challenges of Urban Changes Disamenity Zone in the Ng'ambo district of Zanzibar City, Tanzania Challenges of Urban Growth StudySmarterFig. 3 - Disamenity zone in the Ng'ambo district of Zanzibar City, Tanzania. These zones can be areas with squatter settlements and targets for urban renewal and gentrification

    Gentrification creates similar issues. Gentrification is a sequence of urban changes when middle and upper-class individuals and real estate companies move into traditionally working or lower-income areas, renovating, building, and raising property values. Like urban renewal, the intention is to elevate the previous conditions of an urban area. However, it pushes out the original residents, resulting in their displacement to other areas outside cities.

    For the APHG Exam, remember the issues in bold as the main challenges to urban change and urban growth.

    Impact of Urbanization on the Environment

    As cities grow, the impact of building housing and infrastructure for residents can be costly not only for people but for the environment. Loss of farmland and green areas to urban sprawl and a higher ecological footprint from greater energy and resource use can threaten everything from biodiversity to air and water quality.

    A major issue is environmental injustice, which occurs when some people are disproportionately impacted by negative environmental factors due to historical discrimination. For instance, certain unfavorable infrastructure for residential areas (i.e., sewage facilities, polluting industrial facilities) is more likely to be located in lower-income and minority areas. This leads to poorer environmental conditions for some minority groups, exacerbating inequalities even at an environmental level.

    The Flint water crisis in Michigan is one of the most widely known examples of environmental injustice. In 2014, the city of Flint experienced a budget crisis. To save money, the city government switched its water system sources from Lake Huron and the Detroit River to the Flint River. Without adequate research and testing, the new water system contained high concentrations of lead and waste products which are extremely harmful to people, especially children.

    The Flint water crisis primarily affected minorities and lower-income families, as there were few options to fix or compensate for the contaminated water. Over half the population of Flint is African-American, and many residents experienced a range of anger, betrayal, and abandonment due to the crisis. The US government has had to pay out settlements in the hundreds of millions of dollars to families whose children have been exposed to lead at a young age.

    City Problems and Solutions

    Possible solutions to urban change challenges include urban sustainability, inclusionary zoning, and local food movements. By adhering to urban sustainability principles, the negative effects of urban change challenges can be mitigated, minimized, or prevented. Especially as cities grow, farmland protection policies, greater regional planning, and creating urban growth boundaries can minimize environmental damage.

    Challenges of Urban Changes Suburban sprawl in San Francisco City Problems and Solutions StudySmarterFig. 4 - Suburban sprawl in San Francisco. Urban sustainability can help guide cities to build more sustainably and reduce environmentally harmful sprawl

    Inclusionary zoning can be a useful tool by urban planners to combat things like discrimination and housing affordability issues. Inclusionary zoning is usually a planning practice of requiring a part of new construction to be affordable for low and middle-income residents. This allows space for both new and old residents and increases diversity in income.

    Local food movements are meant to address the issue of inaccessibility to food and nutrition. By connecting local farmers and food producers to local residents, greater access to food is available. This can take the form of local food markets or food trading.

    Can you think of other solutions cities could use to address the challenges of urban change?

    Current and Future Challenges that Affect Urban Planning

    Some major challenges to urban planning as cities continue to grow and change are any economic, political, social, or environmental shifts that can drastically change urban landscapes. For instance, climate change is currently a major issue for cities. Climate change can threaten the stability and infrastructure of a city, especially as environmental disasters are more likely to occur and with greater intensity.

    The fragmentation of urban governments, especially in the US, is a major challenge to urban planning. Government agencies are spread through neighborhood, city, county, state, and federal levels. Differing interests, political shifts, and lack of communication can create major issues in the planning process. To create cohesion in the planning process, greater cooperation at all these levels is required.

    Urban Change Challenges - Key takeaways

    • Urban changes arise from shifts in the economy, politics, society, and the environment. These changes also come with adjoining challenges in housing, accessibility, and inequality.
    • High urban growth in developing countries creates challenges with squatter settlements, urban land tenures, disamenity zones, zones of abandonment and crime.
    • There is a high cost of urbanization for both the environment and society. Unfavorable infrastructure for residential areas (i.e., sewage facilities, polluting industrial facilities) is more likely to be located in lower-income and minority areas.
    • Urban sustainability, inclusionary zoning, and local food movements are a few solutions to urban change challenges.
    • Climate change and the fragmentation of urban governments challenge urban planning practices.


    1. Fig. 1, Percentage of people living in different types of residency in the US (2020) (, by Stilfehler (, licensed by CC-BY-SA-4.0 (
    2. Fig. 2, Rodrigo Bueno in Buenos Aires (, by Deensel (, licensed by CC-BY-2.0 (
    3. Fig. 3, Disamenity zone in the Ng'ambo district of Zanzibar City, Tanzania (,_Zanzibar_town,_Tanzania.JPG) by Loranchet, Licensed by CC-BY-SA-3.0 (
    Frequently Asked Questions about Challenges Of Urban Changes

    What are the current and future challenges that affect urban planning?

    The current and future challenges that affect urban planning are climate change and the fragmentation of urban governments. 

    What were the main urban problems in the US?

    The main urban problems in the US include housing discrimination such as redlining, segregation, and blockbusting. 

    What are the causes of urban problems? 

    Urban problems are caused by a range of factors including political, economic, social, or environmental conditions. 

    How do urban changes impact the social fabric of communities?
    Urban changes can lead to gentrification and displacement, disrupt community cohesion and heighten socio-economic inequality. They can also increase diversity, bringing a wider range of cultural experiences and perspectives, but potentially also more conflicts.

    What are some challenges of urban change?

    Some challenges of urban change include housing affordability and discrimination, accessibility to services, squatter settlements, crime, and disamenity zones. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    What happens to real estate prices during gentrification?

    What is the first phase of gentrification?

    What is the second phase in gentrification?


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