Background Information

Soil and its Role in Cities

Soils and Cities

Soil belongs to basic natural resources, playing a key role for development of human society. Its role is not only „being the space“ for development of urban infrastructure but has several other functions, which are very important to secure the living quality in urban environment.


Soil functions in urban and suburban environment

  • Being the space for all human activities (production, services, residence, recreation, cultural activities)
  • Support for biodiversity (living environment for vegetation and fauna),
  • Buffering, storage and transportation capacity for (pollution control, toxicity reduction)
  • Water circulation regulation (infiltration, storage, and drainage)
  • Water quality regulation (filtering, oxidation of pollutants)
  • Microclimate and mesoclimate control

Understanding this complex role of soil in cities is one of basic conditions for successful urban planning and land management.



Soils and recent urbanization

An abrupt development of technology in last two centuries and especially in several last decades resulted in unprecedented improvement of life standard of mankind. This positive development has, however, also negative consequences. Among them, it is first of all the increase of national resources exploitation and overall intensification of interaction between the human society and nature. Among the natural resources that are overexploited the land is one of most important. All human activities take place in landscape and they result in its radical transformation. This is true especially for cities, where large portion of human activities is concentrated. Old and relatively small cities characterized by abrupt territorial boundaries and limited internal functional differentiation have been transformed to large and permanently growing urbanized areas with diffuse transition to suburbanized peripheries and further to rural agricultural areas. This radical structural transformation of cities has a lot of contradicting consequences. On one hand it enabled a better development of urban organisms and allowed more advanced structural differentiation of cities and territorial redistribution of various urban activities (such as residence, production, commerce, services, administration, transport, sport and recreation), but on the other hand it created many problems.


Problems resulting from the lack of urban soil management

The lack of urban soil management results in a wide range of problems:

  • Uncontrolled soil consumption by construction of buildings and development of city infrastructure
  • Uncontrolled soil sealing related to soil consumption
  • Soil and water contamination (heavy metals, organic pollutants, all other xenobiotics, pathogens)
  • Source for air contamination by particulated matter
  • Loss of biodiversity, vegetation perishing
  • Micro- and mesoclimate deterioration

These problems can be grouped to three groups. The most negative is the group of problems related to the ongoing consumption of soil by building activities and consequent soil sealing regardless its functional role and environmental value. It results in reduction of land resources available for other activities (agriculture, forestry and conservation of natural heritage), The second important group of problems is related to endangering the ecological stability by deterioration of the microclimate, damaging the water circulation, and reduction of biodiversity. The third group of problems involves the health problems related to risk of intoxication by respiration uptake and dermal contact with soil contaminants and air particulated matter coming from the soil.

To prevent these problems the comprehensive urban soil management strategy and considerate urban planning are needed.