“Urbanization” refers to the development of human habitation around existing cities. In 1900, only 13% of the world population were city dwellers. By 2007, the urban population equalled that of the rural areas for the first time. It is estimated that by 2030, 60% of the world population (a predicted 4.9 billion people) will live in urban areas. The movement of rural populations into urban areas has caused significant changes in the natural landscape.
“Urbanization” refers to the development of human habitation around existing cities. In 1900, only 13% of the world population were city dwellers. By 2007, the urban population equalled that of the rural areas for the first time. It is estimated that by 2030, 60% of the world population (a predicted 4.9 billion people) will live in urban areas. The movement of rural populations into urban areas has caused significant changes in the natural landscape.

© 2013, "Sherbrooke museum of nature and science". All Rights Reserved.

This composite image shows a global view of Earth at night.

This composite image shows a global view of Earth at night, compiled from over 400 satellite images. NASA researchers have used these images of nighttime lights to study weather around urban areas. http://visibleearth.nasa.gov/

NASA - Visible Earth

© 2013, NASA - Visible Earth. All Rights Reserved.


Canada has experienced four main phases of urbanization in its history. The first began with the founding of Quebec in 1608. Its urban centres such as Quebec, Montreal, Halifax, and St. John’s were essentially military outposts, and their existence depended on maritime transport, relying on wind and sail.

The second phase began with the start of the 19th century. The economy of this period was primarily based on interest in trade, both within and between the different regions, and the growing use of railways and steamships.

The third phase began with the industrial revolution in the 1870s and lasted until the 1920s. Economic power was concentrated in the major cities in central Canada, such as Toronto and Montreal. The economy of this period was marked by the emergence of industrial capitalism and the working class. The spectacular expansion of the suburbs and the construction of tall office towers in city centres were characteristic of this period.

The fourth phase began around the 1940s and lasted until the 1970s. This period was characterized by the growth of major companies. It is noteworthy for the advent of cars and trucks, and an econo Read More
Canada has experienced four main phases of urbanization in its history. The first began with the founding of Quebec in 1608. Its urban centres such as Quebec, Montreal, Halifax, and St. John’s were essentially military outposts, and their existence depended on maritime transport, relying on wind and sail.

The second phase began with the start of the 19th century. The economy of this period was primarily based on interest in trade, both within and between the different regions, and the growing use of railways and steamships.

The third phase began with the industrial revolution in the 1870s and lasted until the 1920s. Economic power was concentrated in the major cities in central Canada, such as Toronto and Montreal. The economy of this period was marked by the emergence of industrial capitalism and the working class. The spectacular expansion of the suburbs and the construction of tall office towers in city centres were characteristic of this period.

The fourth phase began around the 1940s and lasted until the 1970s. This period was characterized by the growth of major companies. It is noteworthy for the advent of cars and trucks, and an economy that began to be more concerned with services than production. The Canadian population grew rapidly, and most of the large companies tended to centralize growth in major cities.

An era of “post-urban” development began near the end of the 1970s. The energy crisis, high interest rates, and several other factors all had an impact on urbanization trends. Since the start of the 1970s, the population of original urban centres has remained stable or begun to decline, while that of the surrounding regions has grown considerably. Cities that have always attracted people from the rural areas are now experiencing the opposite scenario. People prefer mid-sized cities to ones that are very large or very small. More and more Canadians have moved to outlying areas outside metropolitan regions. The growth of the rural population is not a sign of a “return to the land,” but simply the search for rural areas—close to a city! The latest trends seem to indicate that the decline of metropolitan areas with a single urban core and a corresponding growth of urban regions with multiple centres is continuing, but the Canadian city will probably continue to play a leading role in our transportation, and our cultural and economic relations.

source: http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/articles/fr/urbanisation


© 2013, Sherbrooke museum of nature and science. All Rights Reserved.

Landsat 5 image of Vancouver, Canada, August 2011

Vancouver grew from a settlement that had formed around a logging sawmill in western Canada in 1867. Today, Vancouver is a coastal seaport city with an estimated population of over 640,000. In this image Vancouver appears grey and white. Vegetation is green, water is blue and bare ground is tan. This Landsat 5 image was acquired August 7, 2011. http://visibleearth.nasa.gov/

NASA - Visible Earth

© 2013, NASA - Visible Earth. All Rights Reserved.


Urban sprawl leads to many changes in the landscape: we build roads, install sewers and drains, cut trees, level the soil, and increase pollution, to name but a few. It also threatens the environment: the construction of roads, parking lots, shopping centres, and other buildings all eat into the natural habitats of animals. The result is that different populations are cut off from each another, and have greater difficulty breeding, thus threatening the genetic diversity of the species.

Nonetheless, this transformed habitat provides advantages to animals that know how to take advantage of the changes. Many urban animals feed off the other animals in the city, such as insects and mice. Animals living in the city may not face as much competition from other species for food and water as they would in their natural environments, and they no longer have to cover great distances in search of food. The climate in the city is also very different: the temperature, day and night, is usually higher than in the country. The buildings and the roads store heat from the sun, while traffic, factories, and machinery all give off heat. At night, this heat is lost more slowly than in the c Read More
Urban sprawl leads to many changes in the landscape: we build roads, install sewers and drains, cut trees, level the soil, and increase pollution, to name but a few. It also threatens the environment: the construction of roads, parking lots, shopping centres, and other buildings all eat into the natural habitats of animals. The result is that different populations are cut off from each another, and have greater difficulty breeding, thus threatening the genetic diversity of the species.

Nonetheless, this transformed habitat provides advantages to animals that know how to take advantage of the changes. Many urban animals feed off the other animals in the city, such as insects and mice. Animals living in the city may not face as much competition from other species for food and water as they would in their natural environments, and they no longer have to cover great distances in search of food. The climate in the city is also very different: the temperature, day and night, is usually higher than in the country. The buildings and the roads store heat from the sun, while traffic, factories, and machinery all give off heat. At night, this heat is lost more slowly than in the country. Normally, the level of humidity is five to ten percent higher in the city than in the country. Given the warmer climate, certain animals are now breeding year-round in some regions of Canada.


© 2013, "Sherbrooke museum of nature and science". All Rights Reserved.

“Animatown”: to play the game, go on the VMC site at “Urban Wildlife: Our Wild Neighbours”, in the “Games” section.

Go look for animals in your town. Morning, noon and night, they are all around you! To play the “Animatown” game, go on the VMC site at “Urban Wildlife: Our Wild Neighbours”, in the “Games” section. http://www.museevirtuel-virtualmuseum.ca/sgc-cms/expositions-exhibitions/faune_urbaine-urban_wildlife/animaville-animatown-fra.php

Productions Multimage

© 2013, "Musée de la nature et des sciences de Sherbrooke". All Rights Reserved.


City life doesn’t agree with all animal species. Some, like wolves, prefer to stay as far away as possible from the city while others, like bears will pass through from time to time in search of food. Others adapt fairly well, and reproduce, raise their young, and can live most or all of their life within the city. These animals are usually smaller than a large dog, and can find the space they need within the city. They are not easily frightened by strange sights or noises. Most of them are more active at night, when the city is quieter. Urban animals are, above all, opportunists! Almost all of them eat a very varied diet: plants and animals (living or dead) and they are always open to trying something new, like watermelon or pizza. They feed on whatever is abundant in the city. Birds, for example, will feast on the insects attracted by streetlights.


City life doesn’t agree with all animal species. Some, like wolves, prefer to stay as far away as possible from the city while others, like bears will pass through from time to time in search of food. Others adapt fairly well, and reproduce, raise their young, and can live most or all of their life within the city. These animals are usually smaller than a large dog, and can find the space they need within the city. They are not easily frightened by strange sights or noises. Most of them are more active at night, when the city is quieter. Urban animals are, above all, opportunists! Almost all of them eat a very varied diet: plants and animals (living or dead) and they are always open to trying something new, like watermelon or pizza. They feed on whatever is abundant in the city. Birds, for example, will feast on the insects attracted by streetlights.


© 2013, "Sherbrooke museum of nature and science". All Rights Reserved.

Raccoons in a compost box

Raccoons in a compost box at the Sherbrooke museum of nature and science.

Sherbrooke museum of nature and science

© 2013, Marie Chapdelaine. All Rights Reserved.


Our roads and railways are used as migratory corridors by many land animals. Drains and sewers are also used—one only has to think of rats! For shelter, city-dwelling animals accept a variety of lodging: without hollow trees handy, bats are happy with our attics, and chimney swifts move into our house chimneys.
Our roads and railways are used as migratory corridors by many land animals. Drains and sewers are also used—one only has to think of rats! For shelter, city-dwelling animals accept a variety of lodging: without hollow trees handy, bats are happy with our attics, and chimney swifts move into our house chimneys.

© 2013, "Sherbrooke museum of nature and science". All Rights Reserved.

Do some research on your city, or a city that interests you. When was it founded? Where were the first settlers from? What challenges did they have to face? Has the population grown over the years? Has its territory expanded? What impact has it had on plants and animals? Have any efforts been made to minimize its effects on the environment? Illustrate your research with newspaper articles or photos of the period.
Do some research on your city, or a city that interests you. When was it founded? Where were the first settlers from? What challenges did they have to face? Has the population grown over the years? Has its territory expanded? What impact has it had on plants and animals? Have any efforts been made to minimize its effects on the environment? Illustrate your research with newspaper articles or photos of the period.

© 2013, "Sherbrooke museum of nature and science". All Rights Reserved.

A fawn trapped between the bars of a deck railing

Wildlife technicians were able to free this fawn, caught between the bars of this deck railing. The fawn was able to return to the forest uninjured.

Ministère ressources naturelles et de la faune-Direction de la protection de la faune-Estrie

© 2013, "Ministère ressources naturelles et de la faune". All Rights Reserved.


Learning Objectives

Get to know the history of urbanization in Canada. Understand the general impact of urban sprawl on wildlife. Research the evolution of a city.


Teachers' Centre Home Page | Find Learning Resources & Lesson Plans