Did you know that 97% of America’s geography is considered rural? In spite of this, the Washington Post estimates that a whopping 80% of America’s population lives in cities. A similar problem exists in other countries all around the world. Urban centers create and contribute to an ever-growing list of urban sustainability issues. Many environmentalists might also argue that urbanization and continued urban migration are not sustainable either.

1. Overpopulation

The most common problem urban centers face is overpopulation. Most other problems tend to stem from this one factor. When people seek education and work opportunities, they tend to leave rural areas and move to urban centers for better opportunities. Cities generally offer higher-paying jobs, white-collar opportunities and more diverse options for modern-day entertainment. These are just some of the many reasons contributing to the continued migration into cities.

2. Social Inequity

In spite of the promise of positions with better salaries, there are only so many to go around. Thereafter, workers must contend with lower-paying jobs. This creates an economic sustainability problem that makes social mobility even more difficult. It is one of the big reasons inner-city communities tend to be poorer and crime-ridden. The United States Department of Agriculture estimates a rural poverty rate of 16.4%. Compare that with the poverty rate in some of America’s biggest cities:

3. Shortage of Resources

Competition for scarce resources is the main link between overpopulation and social inequity. As the rule of supply and demand dictates, the more people want a specific resource, and the less of that resource there is, the higher the price. This creates an economic sustainability issue of poor home affordability around the world. According to Zillow, the median value of a home in Twentynine Palms, California is $148,000, compared to $752,508 in Los Angeles.

4. Urban Heat Island

According to NASA, an urban heat island is an urban area that experiences higher temperatures than the surrounding environment. The higher temperatures result from human activities. The removal of plant life is one of the most common reasons for higher temperatures in the city compared to surrounding rural areas. The darker colors in cities, such as black asphalt and dark roofs, further encourage heat absorption.

5. Pollution

Pollution is one of the biggest sustainability problems created by big cities. People need clean air, fresh water and nutritious food to survive, but pollution threatens the viability of all these resources. In fact, one organization estimates that cities alone account for 70% of the carbon dioxide emissions in the world. When you compare the population sizes squeezed into cities, the estimate makes perfect sense. Industrial activities also often take place inside urban centers.

The Bottom Line

Despite sustainability issues, urban centers will always have a place in contemporary life. Because of this, people, companies and government agencies need to focus more efforts on investing in rural areas. By doing so, they make it easier for people to remain outside of big cities. This, in turn, reduces urban migration and limits the pressures that urban centers face.


  1. https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2018/12/18/americans-say-theres-not-much-appeal-big-city-living-why-do-so-many-us-live-there/
  2. https://www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/publications/90556/eib-200.pdf
  3. https://www.statista.com/statistics/205637/percentage-of-poor-people-in-the-top-20-most-populated-cities-in-the-us/
  4. https://www.zillow.com/los-angeles-ca/home-values/
  5. https://www.zillow.com/twentynine-palms-ca/home-values/
  6. https://climatekids.nasa.gov/heat-islands/
  7. https://www.c40.org/why_cities

What do you think? Can we overcome these issues? Let us know what you are thinking by leaving a comment below