Envisioning a Great Green City

Nature needs cities. Cities need nature.

Sunset At Cheonggyecheon Stream in Seoul City, Korea.
Seoul City, Korea Sunset At Cheonggyecheon Stream in Seoul City, Korea. © iStock

Imagine cities that are not apart from nature—but a part of nature.

We can aspire to cities where people and nature both thrive; truly flourishing communities where green space is seen not as a luxury – but critical urban infrastructure that effectively addresses some of cities’ biggest challenges.

By 2050, two of every three people on Earth will live in a city. This human migration from rural to urban lives is unprecedented and is projected to result in the rapid urbanization of a land area the size of France, driving habitat loss as well as the degradation of lands that we rely on to protect our drinking water and grow our food. Poorly planned urban growth could even interfere with cities’ best defense against a changing climate—the natural systems that sequester and mitigate greenhouse gases and help communities adapt to climate change.

Rather than embracing nature, however, we’ve built our cities and towns to work against it. A shift to natural solutions can help cities address myriad challenges.

Quote: Pascal Mittermaier

The great green city of the future is ecologically and economically resilient; it’s made up of healthy, livable neighborhoods where the benefits of nature are available to all people.

Global Managing Director, Cities, TNC

A Great Green City is Healthy

Climate change will make cities hotter and less livable, exacerbating respiratory and cardiac disease. Already, millions die each year when heat waves strike urban centers, and suffer the health effects of polluted air.

But trees, when planted in the right places, can cool urban streets and reduce disease by filtering the air. From Phoenix, Arizona to Louisville, Kentucky, The Nature Conservancy is planting trees to make cities more livable and urban life healthier.

Rob McDonald
Rob McDonald Lead Scientist for Global Cities, TNC. © Mark Godfrey

"The scientific evidence is increasingly clear: interacting with nature is associated with multiple health benefits. Smart cities are planning for nature as a crucial type of infrastructure to provide for their citizens."

-Rob McDonald

A Great Green City is Resilient

Cities must manage millions of gallons of rainwater, running off rooftops and across acres of concrete that make up a modern city. This water can cause serious pollution issues, and contribute to dangerous flooding during storms, which are growing ever more frequent and intense.

From Shenzhen, China to Washington, DC to Houston, Texas, The Nature Conservancy is developing new financing mechanisms and incentives for city leaders to consider natural urban water solutions.

Laura Huffman
Laura Huffman Texas Regional Director and North America Cities Committee Chair, TNC. © Barbara Laing/TNC

"Urban green spaces can mitigate heat and air pollution, manage storm water and protect against climate impacts while enhancing city life. Nature can help create thriving, resilient cities—that’s a huge return on investment."

-Laura Huffman


A Great Green City is Equitable

Cities aren’t the problem—they, and the people that bring them to life, can be the solution to many of the environmental challenges we face. Well-planned cities that incorporate nature can bring countless benefits to the world as a whole. But too often, urban plans have historically failed to consider the diversity of needs of the people in all city neighborhoods, resulting in inequity and displacement.

Natural solutions should benefit all neighborhoods, and The Nature Conservancy is working alongside urban residents and listening to their perspectives to ensure that our efforts to make cities greener result in healthier, more livable communities for everyone.

Meera Bhat
Meera Bhat North America Cities Network Director, TNC. © Gritz Photography

"We work at the intersection of conservation and the needs of underresourced communities. At the heart of our approach is our emphasis on building relationships in communities, our focus on diversity, and our aim to measure the social impact of our projects."

-Meera Bhat

A Great Green City is Secure

The billions of people who live in cities rely on the natural world for food and water, and without careful planning, this demand could make urban life untenable. More than 1 in 4 global cities could face water scarcity by 2050, if we don’t take action now. And 4 out of 5 of the world’s largest cities could improve their water quality with investment in nature. From Sao Paulo, Brazil to Nairobi, Kenya, The Nature Conservancy is working with local people to better manage the watersheds that provide urban residents and businesses with drinking water, improving access while creating additional benefits including habitat protection and job creation.

Andrea Erickson
Andrea Erickson Managing Director, Water Security, TNC. © The Nature Conservancy

"By investing in and maintaining the land around our water sources, we can create a more secure future for cities. By realizing that nature is vital water infrastructure, we start down the path of giving nature the credit it deserves."

-Andrea Erickson


  • Envisioning a Great Green City

    Envisioning a Great Green City


    View The Nature Conservancy’s vision for a sustainable urban century.

  • Field Guide to Conservation in Cities in North America

    Field Guide to Conservation in Cities


    This guide provides guidance to conservation leaders in launching new or expanding existing urban conservation programs and partnerships.

  • Funding Trees for Health

    Funding Trees for Health


    An analysis by The Nature Conservancy on finance and policy actions to enable tree planting for public health.

  • Beyond The Source

    Beyond The Source


    New report analyzes 4,000 cities to demonstrate the health, climate and biodiversity benefits of source water protection.

  • Planting Healthy Air

    Planting Healthy Air

    The report shows that even a conservative global investment in urban trees can save tens of thousands of lives.

  • Urban Water Blueprint

    Urban Water Blueprint


    The Urban Water Blueprint report analyzes the state of water in cities around the world and offers cost-effective solutions to improve water quality.