Topics covered in this program include air pollution, water pollution, waste disposal, and the need for urban planning. The Urban Explosion Lesson Plan explores these issues in more detail.
Every day of the year, tens of thousands of people move to the worlds burgeoning
cities in search of a better life. Instead they find sprawling slums, massive traffic
jams, chronic unemployment, regular failure of electrical and water services, strained
educational and recreational facilities, and skyrocketing fuel and food costs. The
uncontrolled development of the worlds major cities has led to a series of problems
air pollution, water pollution, waste disposal, housing shortages, and loss of
As the 21st century dawns, the question is how to balance economic growth
with the health of Earths large metropolitan cities. How do these cities shelter and
sustain their residents without destroying the delicate balance of the environment? The
four mega-cities (cities with populations of over ten million people) profiled in the
video segments are Mexico City, Shanghai, Istanbul, and New York City. Through the
segments and the activities found at the end of this lesson, students will learn more
about the problems facing the worlds mega-cities, possible solutions to those
problems, and the need for urban planning.
National Science Education Standards: Grades 5-8
This lesson correlates to the following content standards:
Content Standard C Life Science
Regulation and Behavior
Population and Ecosystems
Diversity and Adaptations of Organisms
Content Standard E Science and Technology
Understanding about Science and Technology
Content Standard F Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
Population Resources and Environment
Risks and Benefits
Content Standard G History and Nature of Science
Science as a Human Endeavor
Students will be able to:
- describe the environmental problems (specifically air and water pollution) created by
the rapid development of urban areas
- identify some solutions for dealing with problems caused by uncontrolled urbanization
- explain the importance of urban development plans in dealing with cities environmental problems
(Note: The teacher will need to take some time to introduce and discuss the concepts and
vocabulary with the students before proceeding with the rest of the lesson.)
1. To familiarize students with the cities profiled in the program segments, use
a wall map, desk map, or an atlas, and have students locate:
- Mexico City, Mexico
- Istanbul, Turkey
- Shanghai, China
- New York City, New York
After students have located the cities, begin a discussion on what they already know
about each of these places. Ask them to talk about what kinds of environmental problems
large cities like these might face.
2. Introduce the following key terms to the students:
- ecosystem the community of plants and animals interacting with one another
and the environment
- infrastructure the foundation on which economic development is based,
including the transportation, communication, electrical, and water supply systems of a
community, city, or nation
- mega-city a city with a population in excess of ten million people
- pollution the contamination of soil, water, or the air by the discharge of
- rapid transit system mass transportation which enables people to move
farther and faster through a city
- refugee a person who flees usually to another country to escape oppression
- sewage liquid and solid waste usually carried off in sewers or drains
- smog fog that has become mixed and polluted with smoke
- sustainability the ability to maintain or keep from collapsing
- toxic poisonous, capable of causing injury or death, especially by
- urbanization growth in the portion of a population living in areas of more
than 2,500 people
- urban sprawl the unplanned, uncontrolled spreading of urban development
into areas adjoining the edge of a city
- water treatment plant facility for the chemical treatment and recycling of
3. Have students discuss examples of water or air pollution in their own
community and what is being done to overcome these difficulties.
4. Have students discuss whether their community has a plan for expansion.
5. If students are in rural communities, discuss how they have been affected by
the urban explosion people leaving the farms; farm closings; young people leaving
the community; and store closings in their town.
Focus for Viewing
"As you watch the following video segments, look for some of the problems
resulting from uncontrolled urban growth and possible solutions. These problems
demonstrate the need for a plan or vision to manage urban development."
The following viewing activities offer opportunities for student discussion of a major
dilemma of the 21st century the "urban explosion." The topics
in these activities could be covered in one lesson, or extended into several lessons.
Topic: Air Pollution
"Our first journey takes us to Mexico City a city pulsing with the
energy of 24 million citizens, 30,000 factories, and five million cars. Mexico City is
what scientists call a closed ecosystem. The focus of this segment is on the interaction
of human activity with the environment, and how the results affect the quality of life. As
you watch this section of the video, think about where you live, how you live, and the
effect you have on your environment."
View Segment One: length 3 minutes and 56 seconds. Pause when the screen goes black.
(Visual and audio cues: Begin to play after the program title and you hear "Mexico
City pulses with energy." Stop when you hear "Thousands of repair shops cater to
stricter exhaust regulations and increased auto inspections.")
- What are some of the problems Mexico City is facing today? (Answer: little wind to
cleanse the air and no ocean or major rivers to exchange water and sewage)
- What causes the problem of smog in Mexico City? (Answers: the combination of three
million cars, 35,000 factories and its geography)
- How do you think Mexico City might solve these problems? (Answers will vary
stricter emission standards, public transportation, etc
- Do we face any of these same problems where we live? What are we doing or what can be
done to help? (Answers will vary.)
Topic: Air Pollution Solution
"Next we will visit Chinas richest and most important industrial city
Shanghai. Home to thousands of multi-national corporations, Shanghai is a beacon
for economic opportunity. In just a decade, its population of 13 million has grown by
three million. These new citizens are peasants from the countryside looking for a better
life. As a result, Shanghai, like Mexico City, is facing major environmental problems. As
we explore Shanghai, pay attention to how city officials are attempting to deal with one
of these problems air pollution. Think about whether or not their solution would
work for Mexico City."
View Segment Two: length 2 minutes and 2 seconds. Pause when the screen goes black.
(Visual and audio cues: Start when you see people walking down a busy shopping
thoroughfare and you will see three women in red coats and hear "Each day over a
million people pack its sidewalks." Stop when you hear, "Above ground, new
highways ease traffic congestion as well as link Shanghai with surrounding industrial and
- What was the cause of the smog in Shanghai? (Answers: burning low-grade coal to warm
homes and run factories; car emissions)
- How are they trying to solve this problem? (Answers: limitations on ownership of cars
and stricter air quality regulations for factories)
- What are they doing about the traffic problem? (Answer: rebuilding the citys
infrastructure starting with a rapid transport system such as the subway system
found in cities like New York)
- Would these same methods work in Mexico City? Why or why not? (Answers will vary.)
- How about in your area?
Topic: Water Pollution
"Istanbul, Turkey is an ancient city racing into the next millenium. It is
one of the new mega-cities. The citys population is estimated to be around 15
million and growing. This rapid increase in population is due in part to refugees fleeing
rural poverty and violence. These new residents are arriving at the rate of 1,400 people a
day, a half million a year. As a result Istanbul is facing two critical problemsa
water shortage due to this rapidly growing population and water pollution caused by waste
water and the citys shipping industry.
The underground reservoirs built by the Romans which sustained the citys water
needs for over 14 centuries cannot handle this mass migration. Istanbul needs to change
its water supply as well as its method for dealing with sewage and waste water. In
addition, this influx of refugees has resulted in the loss of land or greenspace due to
illegal housing projects to accommodate Istanbuls newest citizens."
View Segment Three: length 4 minutes and 29 seconds. Pause when the screen goes black.
(Start when you see the back of a building with two satellite dishes and the camera pans
up to a bridge crowded with cars and you hear "With little room left in the old city,
people are crowding . . . ." Stop when you hear "Today his catch is meager
a family tradition is about to disappear.")
- What is causing Istanbuls water shortage problem? (Answer: migration to the city)
- What is causing Istanbuls water pollution problem? (Answer: a lack of sufficient
waste water treatment facilities and excessive shipping traffic on the waterway going
right through the middle of the city the Bosporous Channel)
- How has the water pollution problem affected the fishing industry? (Answer: The catch is
- Do you know of any water pollution problems in your area? What do you think should be
done about them? (Answers will vary.) Note: This could be an excellent opportunity for
students to research local water issues.
Topic: Water Pollution Solution
"Now we return to Shanghai to see how this city is attempting to solve its
water pollution problems. Toxic sewer waste water and factory pollution are issues that
must be addressed. Watch closely to see how this city plans to improve the quality of its
View Segment Four: length: 1 minute and 41 seconds. Pause when the screen goes black.
(Visual and audio cues: Start when you see the Shanghai skyline and barges on a waterway
and hear "Suzhou Creek is an ancient canal cutting through the heart of
Shanghai." Stop when you hear "Twenty miles upstream from Shanghai where the
Hungpu is less affected by industrial waste, the government remedied the problem by
building a new water intake and pumping plant.")
- How is the city of Shanghai dealing with its water pollution problems? (Answers: A
series of huge tunnels are being built to collect waste water which will then be treated
and flushed out to sea. A new water purification plant has been built for drinking water.)
- Do you know where your local waste water treatment facility is located and how it
operates? (Answers will vary) Note: This may be a good field trip opportunity.
Topic: Need for Urban Planning
"Finally, we visit one of the most successful mega-cities in the world
New York City. In order for a city to function successfully, there must be a plan
for sheltering and sustaining its growing population without destroying the delicate
balance of the citys environment. New York City has such a plan in the form of an
infrastructure that was put in place at the end of the 19th century. With a few
exceptions, New York works as a unified system one that provides for the needs of
the citys inhabitants. Serious environmental problems such as air pollution and
water pollution are dealt with more efficiently through this careful planning. In a
unified system, quality of life is controlled by a citys ability to anticipate its
needs and to envision a plan to cope with change. In this final segment, we can begin to
understand how a mega-city works as a unified system."
View Segment Five: length 53 seconds. Pause when the screen goes black.
(Visual and audio cues: Start when you see an aerial view of New York City at night and
hear "From the air, New York is like no other place on earth." Stop when you
hear Robert Kennedy Jr. say, ". . . they can use natural resources more efficiently
than any other social development organism.")
- How are the lives of the people of New York City similar to those in Mexico City,
Istanbul, and Shanghai? (Answer: The quality of their lives is controlled by their
citys ability to cope with change.)
- What sets New York City apart from Mexico and Istanbul in terms of how they deal with
their environmental problems? (Answer: New York City has a vision a plan for a
- What is the importance of having a plan before starting any expansion or development?
1. Group Project: "Building a City": Have students draw or construct what they
consider to be "the perfect city." Plans should include methods for dealing with
environmental issues, as well as a vision for sustainable growth and development of the
2. Group Project: "Improving Your City": Have students develop a plan to
improve the city or town in which they live. Have them highlight what changes they would
make to the existing infrastructure. To obtain an "Environmental Profile" of
where you live, visit the Office of Environmental Information (http://www.epa.gov/eq/).
3. Have students invite a representative from their local water utility to speak to the
class. This could also be done as an individual interview. Have students prepare questions
such as: Where does our water come from? Where is the waste from factories and plants
released? How is our local sewage treated, and where is it released? To learn more about
the effects of urbanization on water, have your students visit the U.S. Geological
Surveys Water Science for Schools site at http://wwwga.usgs.gov/edu/urbanquality.html.
4. Have students research the development of their community in terms of land use. Have
them look at questions such as how the land was first used, and how it is used today. Have
them compare and contrast the benefits of development due to population growth. Students
can check with their local Chamber of Commerce, city government or Planning and
5. For students interested in conservation, help them get involved in a local
conservation project. These projects might include planting trees, cleaning up riverbeds
or beaches. To discover other project ideas, check out "Fun Activities" at the
Environmental Protection Agency's Student Center (http://www.epa.gov/students/).
6. Throughout history, storytelling has been an important tool for learning about the
past. Have students write a myth or legend about population growth and its effects on the
environment. They may want to include such ideas as the uncontrolled growth of
Earths population, and the effects on the Earth, the oceans and the skies. Encourage
them to be creative.
EE-Link (Environmental Education on the Internet)
This sites mission is to spread information and ideas that will help educators
explore the environment and investigate current issues with students.
Environmental News Network
The mission of this network is to create environmental awareness on critical issues
through the presentation of fair and balanced daily news and information products.
EPA Curriculum and Resources
Resources for teachers on topics ranging from conservation, air and water pollution to
waste and recycling are found here.
EPA Student Center
At the student center, youngsters in the middle and high school grades can explore a wide
range of environmental issuesfrom air and water pollution and ecosystems to waste
Global Action Center
The Global Action Center provides current information on world activities in areas
including air, water, climate and habitat.
Urbanization and Water Quality
The U.S. Geological Surveys Water Science for Schools site examines the effects of
urbanization on water quality.
Water Environment Federation
Water Environment Web provides a database for examining the leading companies and
suppliers serving the water environment community, as well as student materials and
activities (K-12) concerning the water environment.
Agencies and Organizations
660 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10016
Good source of information on agencies that deliver relief assistance to people in need
and on long-term solutions to global poverty.
680 Mount Auburn
Watertown, MA 02272
An organization whose mission is to build a sustainable future through partnerships
between scientists and citizens.
Friends of the Earth
218 D Street S.E.
Washington, DC 20003
Dedicated to protecting the planet from environmental degradation, Friends of the Earth
is a good source for student reports and information for awareness of urbanization issues.
1436 U Street NW
Washington, DC 20009
This is the leading independent environmental organization that uses peaceful and creative
activism to protect the global environment.
Population Reference Bureau, Inc.
1875 Connecticut Avenue N.W., Suite 520
Washington, DC 20009
This is a source of information on specific statistics on population and population
530 Bush Street
San Francisco, CA 94108
Students can request information on the Clubs efforts to protect the environment
against problems caused by urbanization.
U.S. Agency for International Development
State Department Bldg.
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520
This is a source of information on urban development in the United States and in countries
around the world.
The United Nations Environment Programme
New York, NY 10017
Source for information on the environment as it is affected by the population growth
and/or urbanization of cities.
World Affairs Council
1726 M Street N.W. #800
Washington, DC 20036
Another source for information on the environment as it is affected by the population
growth and/or urbanization of cities.