Abstract Pollutant dispersion over urban areas is not that well understood, in particular at the street canyon scale. This study is therefore conceived to examine how urban morphology modifies the pollutant removal, dispersion, and entrainment over urban areas. An idealized computational domain consisting of 12 two-dimensional (2D) identical street canyons of unity aspect ratio is employed. The large-eddy simulation (LES) is used to calculate the turbulent flows and pollutant transport in the urban boundary layer (UBL). An area source of uniform pollutant concentration is applied on the ground of the first street canyon. A close examination on the roof-level turbulence reveals patches of low-speed air masses in the streamwise flows and narrow high-speed downdrafts in the shear layer. Different from the flows over a smooth surface, the turbulence intensities are peaked near the top of the building roughness. The pollutant is rather uniformly distributed inside a street canyon but disperses quickly in the UBL over the buildings. Partitioning the vertical pollutant flux into its mean and turbulent components demystifies that the pollutant removal is mainly governed by turbulence. Whereas, mean wind carries pollutant into and out of a street canyon simultaneously. In addition to wind speed promotion, turbulent mixing is thus required to dilute the ground-level pollutants, which are then removed from the street canyon to the UBL. Atmospheric flows slow down rapidly after the leeward buildings, leading to updrafts carrying pollutants away from the street canyons (the basic pollutant removal mechanism).