Soils in the City

The unseen underpinnings

Did you know that the area of urbanised land in Britain has increased by over 3% during the last decade?

Unlike the countryside, where soils are open, exposed and visible, many urban soils are covered, sealed off
from interaction with the atmosphere, and remain unseen. Whereas many country people work with soils and so recognise their importance, townspeople may have little contact with soils, and see them only in patches. They can be unaware of the soils beneath the streets and buildings and the benefits they serve.

The considerable effects that soils can have on urban structures and activities are often not obvious. However, soil influences are implicit in some urban place names. Thus Holloway in Islington is where the Great North Road crossed low lying poorly-drained clays and the road was often boggy in pre-asphalt times. Better drained loams and sandy soils in nearby neighbourhoods also show up in names such as Highbury and Barnsbury. Even after several centuries of urbanisation, these differences are influential and are associated with differences in flood hazard, housing types and property values.