About Topic 8:
The cities and infrastructure topic include the organization of urban transport, communications, and housing, trends in city life, social problems associated with cities such as overcrowding and petty crime, the growth of cities, possible future developments in city living, and comparisons of urban and rural lifestyles.
This topic is often used for Task 2 Ideas>problem/solution and Ideas>cause/effect type essays. There is also sometimes a connection to Topic 9 Countryside and agriculture, so you may need to combine vocabulary from the two topics.
Topic 8 example Task:
Transport delays and long journey times are a widespread phenomenon in many cities today. What are the causes of this problem, and how could the situation be improved?
Explanation of the Task:
This is an Ideas>Mixed>Causes/solutions type essay. It does not ask for your opinion but wants you to suggest some ideas about the causes of a problem situation and also some possible solutions. You should introduce the topic, describe two or three causes, then two or three solutions, and then summarise. Task 2 sometimes mixes Cause/effect and Problem/solution Tasks in this way. You should read the Task very carefully to see if it is a ‘mixed’ type. The word ‘problem’ does not necessarily mean it is a Problem/solution Task!
Band 9 model essay:
Transport is an essential part of urban life, and lengthy journeys are frustrating and expensive for those concerned. There appear to be two main causes of this, and several possible solutions, as we will explain here. Perhaps the main cause is the lack of investment or funding for infrastructure in the form of high-capacity public transport and increased road space for private vehicles. This means that too many vehicles use the existing network, and congestion is inevitable. We see this in most large cities globally, such as London or Tokyo. Many conurbations also lack finance for transport hubs, such as integrated road and rail facilities which could connect public and private transport, thus reducing bottlenecks. A further cause seems to be the problem of overcrowding in cities, whereby people migrate from the hinterland and settle in urban areas, putting strain on amenities, housing and above all on transport capacity. This means that an already stretched system is often pushed to a critical point, causing cancellations and breakdowns in the technology used, especially in situations of urban sprawl such as in Latin America.
Regarding potential solutions, probably the main remedy would be to encourage investment in better infrastructure, for example through subsidies or public-private partnerships as was tried successfully in Germany during the 1990’s. This enhances the network and fosters a sense of civic pride, to everyone’s benefit. Another solution may be to use tax incentives to allow more home working, so that there is less need to commute from the suburbs to the inner city for work.
A final response might be the development of more flexible patterns of transport, such as communal carpooling, which would reduce reliance on existing systems and vehicles. In conclusion, it seems that outdated infrastructure and overcrowding are the key factors behind our transport frustrations. Possible solutions would involve better funding, and also innovations in ways of working and travelling to reduce the burden on the system.
Explanation of the topic vocabulary and examples in Speaking:
Urban = adjective meaning ‘about cities’
Urban crime is a great concern for the authorities in most countries today.
Investment or funding = money to pay for an activity, either from government or business
My home town secured investment from a charity for a new stadium, and funding from a local company for sponsorship.
Infrastructure = the physical and system organization of a city, area or country, especially in terms of transport and communications
The UK railway infrastructure dates back to the 1860s in many places.
High-capacity = able to handle high volumes of goods or people
Sea container ships are high-capacity international freight providers.
Public transport = transport such as buses and trains funded by the state (as opposed to ‘private transport’ such as cars owned by individuals)
I usually get to work by public transport, even though it’s very crowded.
Congestion = situation of too much traffic, causing delays (the phrase ‘traffic jam’ is not generally used in Academic English)
I have to leave home very early in the mornings, because of the congestion on the way to my college.
Conurbations = very large cities which have absorbed other towns
Sao Paolo is a huge conurbation in Brazil and is still expanding.
Transport hubs = centres where many routes converge
Heathrow airport is the largest transport hub in Europe.
Facilities and amenities = places providing any service to the public, either private or public sector
My home city has many amenities such as swimming pools and parks, and several facilities for elderly people such as care homes.
A bottleneck = a place where congestion regularly happens
The connection from a motorway to a local road is always a big bottleneck.
Overcrowding = a situation where too many people try to live in one place
Hong Kong has managed its overcrowding problem very skilfully.
Hinterland = the area around a city affected by its development
I live in the hinterland of our capital city, where we regularly go for shopping and for work projects.
To settle in a place = to move and live there permanently, usually with work and a family I was born in Asia, but my parents settled in the USA when I was very young.
Urban sprawl = the situation where a city expands and buildings are constructed without control or laws
Urban sprawl has resulted in the rapid expansion of many Asian cities, with resulting damage to the environment.
Public-private partnerships = projects funded jointly by the government and business, to reduce the cost to the taxpayer
My country has just installed a new tunnel under the central mountains, run by a public-private partnership.
Civic pride = the pride felt in the town/city where you live, its people and infrastructure
As a symbol of civic pride, we built a new park zone with sports amenities and educational exhibitions.
Tax incentives = reductions in tax to encourage people to do or buy something
We should use tax incentives to encourage more people to try using their own solar panels at home.
Home working = working in your home for all or part of the week
Home working can be quite an isolated way to do your job.
To commute = to travel a long distance to work every day
I live in the suburbs and commute by train to the city center.
Suburbs = the residential areas around a city
Life in the suburbs can be rather boring, to be honest.
The inner city = the older, central part of a city
Inner city housing is often overcrowded and noisy.
Communal car-pooling = a voluntary system for people to travel in a shared car, to reduce fuel use
I tried car-pooling, but it was difficult to arrange journeys with three other people.
Outdated = old-fashioned and not relevant today
I find that our political parties are very outdated these days.
Innovations = new ideas or things (which are usually useful or exciting)
Mobile computing was one of the great innovations of the last ten years.
A burden = a weight or responsibility which is difficult to cope with
The burden of income tax is much too high these days for normal people.