North America

Urban Strategies

Collaborating with cities to protect and restore natural systems for the benefit of people and nature.

Video: Urban Strategies

Take a look at how we're approaching important issues, like population growth and climate change, that are affecting urban areas.

Watch: Urban Strategies Video

Superstorm Sandy's Aftermath

Watch how The Nature Conservancy's LEAF interns are learning how nature can protect us against coastal flooding and super storms like Sandy.


The world’s population is growing rapidly; there are seven billion people on the planet today, and by 2060 that number is expected to balloon to more than nine billion. This growth has led to significant pressures on our planet’s natural resources, as well as aging and crumbling infrastructure (think roads, pipelines, and levees). Nowhere is this more apparent than in cities. Currently, about 82 percent of all Americans live in urban areas and the United Nations projects a 72 percent increase in global urban living by 2050. 

Cities cannot simply afford to erect more roads, bridges, dams, levees and the like. Building our way out of the challenges surrounding rapid population growth and urbanization simply isn’t cost-effective. But nature can help.

Our Urban Strategies Initiative recognizes two key facts: first, increasingly crowded urban environments will require, above all else, reliable sources of food, water and energy; and secondly, a healthy environment can help cities solve the issues they face at a potentially reduced cost. 

How We Do It

Using the concept of whole-system conservation, we can help ensure cities have clean water, fresh air, dependable sources of energy and a high quality of life. Natural systems—things like healthy trees and intact coastal wetlands—have the capacity to reduce pollutants in the air, clean and maintain water supplies, and protect us from storms and hurricanes.

In order to survive, growing cities need to collaborate and innovate in four key areas: protecting freshwater, healthy urban trees, coastal defense and building environmental leaders for the future. The next step is learning how.

Coastal Restoration and Protection

Rebuilding and restoring oyster reefs, wetlands, seagrass, coral reefs and coastal marshes can help safeguard coastal communities, where roughly 120 million Americans live. These natural assets create an insurance policy for the future—they are nature’s cushion against rising sea levels and storm surge, and they remove pollution from the millions of gallons of freshwater that flow into our oceans each minute. The Conservancy’s coastal restoration and protection strategy aims to preserve and enhance these natural systems, to ensure they continue to deliver critical protection for our coastal cities.

Urban Water Management

Cities need water to survive, but urban water supplies face significant pressures from rising demand, aging infrastructure and a myriad of natural hazards. As populations grow and consumption increases, cities will have to fundamentally change how they acquire and use water. We have the same amount of water today as we did thousands of years ago, so we must all use less to guarantee sufficient water to support our rapidly growing population, grow our economy and protect our natural resources. Our success will depend on our ability to optimize the use of water for cities, energy and food production. But in doing so, we cannot pit one interest against another; it won't work. The Conservancy has developed science-based tools and practical incentives that help protect aquifers, lakes and rivers, as well as the forests, grasses and wetlands that filter our water supplies.

Urban Tree Canopies

Trees and forests are essential to urban residents in many ways—they capture rainfall and help control urban stormwater runoff, provide shade and reduce excessive temperatures, and remove dust and pollutants from the air. Science has demonstrated the benefits of natural solutions like reforestation—each year, for instance, Houston trees remove an estimated 779 tons of harmful ground-level ozone, a gas created from emissions from industrial facilities, electric utilities, vehicle exhaust and gasoline vapors. Trees also provide a number of intangible benefits to people such as reduced stress and a greater sense of safety. The Conservancy’s urban forest strategy calls for educating cities on the benefits of trees in urban areas and collaborating with businesses to incorporate the value of nature into their decision-making.

Building Environmental Leaders

With more than 95 million people, the Millennial generation (born between the early 1980s and early 2000s) is the largest and most diverse in American history. But they are less connected to nature than ever—only 10 percent of kids polled by The Nature Conservancy reported spending time outside every day. Since formative experiences with nature have proven to be key to a lifelong interest in conservation, on-the-ground conservation projects that happen within cities and/or benefit urban populations are critical. Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future is an established Conservancy program developed to provide real world conservation work experiences to urban youth and support the next generation of conservation leaders.

The Conservancy will launch its Urban Strategies Initiative in five pilot cities—New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago and Miami. Each city has its own unique set of challenges, but all have strong leadership focused on innovative solutions. With an open mind and an emphasis on protecting freshwater supplies, defending coastlines, maintaining a healthy tree canopy and creating a new generation of environmental leaders, we can essentially help future-proof these cities—and all cities—to ensure their continued prosperity.

Urban Strategies in the News
  • We recently collaborated with the mayors of Austin, Houston and Phoenix on a resolution to prioritize the use of natural solutions in cities. We’re happy to announce that the resolution received unanimous support and was adopted by the US Conference of Mayors
  • How are how migrating and local birds are adjusting to South Florida’s urban lifestyle? Read this recent article in the Miami Herald to find out. 

    Read more here:
  • Illinois State Director Michelle Carr was recently featured on Fox 32 Chicago to discuss the Eurasian ruffe, an invasive aquatic species that is thought to have entered the Great Lakes. You can also read her Chicago Sun Times op-ed on the same topic here.
  • New York Executive Director Bill Ulfelder authored the afterword to the e-book “Bloomberg’s Hidden Legacy,” by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Inside Climate News. You can read download and read it here.
  • Texas State Director Laura Huffman recently penned an op-ed that was published by the Houston Chronicle about the importance of trees in the city of Houston.
  • Read a letter to the editor in The New York Times about New York City’s Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency report by Bill Ulfelder, executive director of The Nature Conservancy in New York.
  • NY Mayor Bloomberg announced a comprehensive plan to protect New York City from future natural disasters. The solutions he’s included in the mix, such as restoring beaches and wetlands, will be important tools for protecting the coastline. This is exactly the type of work we're championing with our urban strategies initiative. Read an article in The New York Times about it. 



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