The world’s urban population is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050. The fact that 6.3 billion of the population in 2050 will live in cities will make planning our urban future a difficult task, and following current urban development patterns won’t make things any easier.
By 2030, the world’s global urban areas are expected to expand out over a total land area that’s more than twice the size of the state of Texas — more than 1.5 million square kilometers, also comparable to the combined territories of France, Germany and Spain — according to urban studies experts at the Planet Under Pressure conference in London this week.
Cities offer one of our best hopes for a more efficient future, but this urban expansion is still concerning. If cities expand more like typical North American urban areas — away from the urban core — efficiency gains from urbanization could be negated.
”The way cities have grown since World War II is neither socially or environmentally sustainable and the environmental cost of ongoing urban sprawl is too great to continue,” says Karen Seto a professor at Yale University, in a statement. ”[T]he planet can’t afford not to urbanize,” says Seto. “People everywhere, however, have increasingly embraced Western styles of architecture and urbanization, which are resource-intense and often not adapted to local climates. The North American suburb has gone global, and car-dependent urban developments are more and more the norm.”
That’s why thoughtful urban planning is such a priority as our population continues to grow and moves into cities. Theoretically, we could all fit into a city the size of Texas if it were as dense as New York. The point isn’t that we would all move into one Texas-sized city, but that we don’t need to continue to urbanize land at the rate we are to accommodate more people living in cities. We can build our cities in ways that don’t eat up land and accommodate people.
And while higher density cities are ideal to a more efficient city, problems arise when more people live closer together. Going forward it will be the cities with people living closer together and successfully finding ways to deal with issues like congestion and pollution that will be most successful.
More specifically, urban experts offer these six solutions for cities:
• Plan and invest in public infrastructure that encourage transit and accessibility
• Create land-use zoning and building standards that increase efficiency and multiple uses.
• Reverse the trend to ever larger homes
• End subsidies that promote low density and leapfrog development and discourage compact development, or favor cars at the expense of public transit
• Improve the quality of inner city schools and address other growing urban challenges, such as growing income inequality, segregation and social polarization, crime rates and heightened health threats including stress
• Through social marketing, foster demand for efficient styles of living