Solving Cities

Could 7 billion people live in a Texas-sized city?

Posting in Cities

With 7 billion of us now inhabiting the Earth and more than half of them living in urban areas, the challenge continues to be: how can we accommodate our growing population in an urbanized world. Density and smart urban planning might be the answer.

With 7 billion of us now inhabiting the Earth and more than half of them living in urban areas, the challenge continues to be: how can we accommodate our growing population in an urbanized world?

One solution to that challenge might come in the form of greater urban density. Because while some believe 7 billion represents an overcrowded planet, the blog Per Square Mile shows that we're far from too dense. Theoretically, all 7 billion of us could easily fit in a Texas-sized city that is as dense as New York City. See the infographic below:

While it's not realistic that we will all move to one mega city, the reality is that the next 2 billion that join us on Earth will be living in cities. So how we build our cities will have a major impact on how we use our resources. But in rich, low-density countries like the U.S. will America's willingly move into more dense living situations? One company is betting they will, NPR reports:

ZETA Communities builds modular homes here. Project manager Scott Wade says they're not like "stick-built" homes — "stick-built meaning they build it one piece at a time," Wade says, "whereas we build it an assembly at a time."

...

ZETA founder and President Naomi Porat sees cities as her company's big market.

"The population all around the world is moving toward the cities," says the former real estate executive. "Land is a vital resource, there's not a lot remaining, so we need to think about creative ways to use space."

But just because we're mostly living in urban areas doesn't mean we're all living in greater density, the latest U.N. report on population reminds us.

Hania Zlotnik, the director of the Population Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs cautions against assuming too easy a definition because governments and urban areas themselves define “city” in numerous ways and their boundaries can shift, sometimes for political, demographic or economic reasons. Metropolitan areas spreading over large territory are absorbing or overtaking compact cities.

The report continues by advocating for smarter development in our cities:

Without planning, cities can grow absent-mindedly, spread over every available empty space and overrun the ability of public services, where they exist, to meet demands or cope with the growth of slums. Property developers, corporations, migrant workers, government bureaucracies, and public institutions seeking room to expand all play roles in the growth, reshaping or, lately in a number of countries, contraction of cities. While many cities face overwhelming challenges, others have the potential to bring the benefits of urban life to their residents.

While we won't crowd into one big city someday, making our cities more dense and efficient will be essential for all of us, 7 billion and counting.

Image: Courtesy of Per Square Mile

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Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure