The City and its Biome

Kruf, J.P. (2019) Freshwater biome.

The city has been built within its natural environment. The origin of every city lies in the place, the milieu, the environment where it all started. For that we took nature, reformed it, destroyed it, to make a place for ourselves. We know that when we visit museums. We know where we come from.

The way that cities interconnect with the environment is crucial for present and more so for the near-future quality of life. It is about city resilience, by heart and soul. More and more though, the connection between city and environment becomes thinner and thinner, more unbalanced, sometimes under heavy pressure or even gets completely lost. Yes, there is a growing concern among citizens, experts and scientists how to keep or restore the balance with its natural environment.

This quest for balance is hot because the facts show us that cities become more irresilient due to internal explosive growth of population and rapid economic development, with all effects as disease, poverty and pollution, as well due to external hazards caused by climate change, sea-level rise, human-made natural disasters. Among others, the World Economic Forum publishes large scale findings in their Global Risks Reports for 15 years now. They emerge for more than 70 years now, reported for the first time in the Club of Rome report Limits to Growth (Meadows et al., 1972).

Back to basics and to be aware of where we come from could trigger the awareness of the essence of this balance. Professor Tarr describes the essence of this relation as follows:

“Cities interact and shape the natural environment in several and direct ways. City populations require food, water, fuel, and construction materials… Cities have always placed demands on their sites and their hinterlands… Americans founded cities in locations where nature offered various attractions, such as on coastlines where the land’s contours created harbours, on rivers and lakes that could be used for transportation, water supplies and waste disposal, and in fertile river valleys with extensive food and animal resources.”


In this essay, we take the fast lane to the true origin, in fact to the main habitat of every city: the biome. Biomes are defined as “the world’s major communities, classified according to the predominant vegetation and characterized by adaptations of organisms to that particular environment” (Campbell, 1996). Every city in the world lies within or near the geographical boundaries of one or more biomes and is submitted to the laws of its physical and biological features. The biomes:

Forest Biome: This is a biological community that is dominated by trees and other woody vegetation (Spurr, 1980). There are three major types of forests; tropical rainforest, temperate forest and boreal forest (taiga). The fact is that most of the original forests have been destroyed or are on the brink of disappearance (University of California Museum of Paleontology).

Grassland biome: Grasslands are characterized as lands dominated by grasses. Continental climate (hot and dry) is favorable for grasses rather than for large shrubs or trees. There are three major types of grassland: savannas, prairies and steppes.

Tundra Biome: Tundras are characterized as lands with shrubby vegetation, composed of dwarf shrubs, sedges and grasses, mosses, and lichens, which is adapted to harsh conditions with an extremely cold climate. The biodiversity is low, there is poor nutrients availability and little precipitation with a short season (the Arctic summer) of growth and reproduction. There are alpine and arctic tundras.

Desert biome: Deserts are characterized as lands where water availability is at a minimum and biodiversity is small. Organisms have adapted both physiologically and behaviourally to the lack of water (Wilson, 2018). There are four major types of deserts: hot and dry, semiarid, coastal and cold.

Marine biome: The marine biome dominates the surface of the Earth, covering about three-quarters of the Earth’s surface area. The world’s oceans contain the richest diversity of species of any space on Earth. Rainwater for land areas is supplied by the evaporation of ocean waters. There are oceans, coral reefs, and estuaries.

Freshwater biome: 3% of earth’s water is freshwater and about 70% of that is sequestered in polar ice4. There are wetlands inundated with water, streams and rivers with running water and ponds and lakes with accumulating water.

Where does your city lie? What do you think about how it influences city life? Your life, now and in the life of your children and grandchildren?


Campbell, N.A. (1996) Biology, 4th Edition. California, Menlo Park: The Benjamin/Cummings Publishing Company, Inc.

Meadows, Donella H., Dennis L. Meadows, Jørgen Randers, and William W. Behrens III (1972). The Limits to Growth. Club of Rome.

Spurr, S.H., Barnes, B.V. (1980.) Forest Ecology. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Tarr, Joel A., The City and the Natural Environment. Carnegie Mellon University.

University of California Museum of Paleontology,

Wilson E.O. (2018) Life on Earth. Chapter Biomes and Landscapes. E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation.