By Tyler Falk
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
Nov 1, 2011
I've notiticed that no one seems to be considering the psychological impact of this "dense living." Remember when small cities existed and no one needed to lock their doors? Yes, that time really did exist. The greater the population, the more our social structure is affected with stress levels dramatically increasing and safety decreasing. The psychological impact, as well as the other consequences mentioned, will be devastating. We need population increase to keep the economy (and ego's) thriving, yet cannot even handle the people who are here now. Luckily, virtual reality will save the day with my ideal environment and mate just a headset away. Whew.
This projected population expansion (even if it occurs to the extent predicted) isn't going to happen overnight. And it's certainly not going to focussed just on one city (although that is an interesting thought experiment that puts the issue into perspective). Instead, the development of appropriate technological solutions for energy, water, sanitation, etc., will be driven precisely according to the rate at which demand occurs. Just like it happened over the last 100 or 200 years, pick your time span. Wouldn't our ancestors be astonished with the solutions today to food, sanitation, etc., not to mention the improvements generally in standards of living? So please relax and enjoy this wonderful life and look forward with eager anticipation to an even greater future for all our grandchildren and great grandchildren.
The logistics needed to provide food and water and remove waste products from such a concentration make the urban problems of today???s cities look like a single stopped up toilet in comparison.
While the entire human population can be crammed into an area the size of Texas, there is much more to population density than just space. There is an impact on the environment with the need to feed 7 billion people, the land used for agriculture has to be fertilized and planted with high yield crops and some of the crops has to be used to feed the animals used for food. Then there is the need for an adequate water supply to irrigate crops and supply water for drinking and recreation as well as preserving natural ecosystems such as fish and other animal habitats. Another factor to add is that large groups of people are constantly fighting to control resources and there are customs in every culture that sometimes create waste of resources. Crops are dependant on controlling pests and disease as well as logistical challenges of getting food to where the people are, crops are at the mercy of storms, fire and drought. The harder it is to maintain resources the more people will fight for those resources. We only have this one planet and it would take several centuries to find and develop new worlds to support us.
That is why the fundamental design of many of those functions for cities needs redesign. Water is a case in point. Waste treatment, rainwater capture and recycling can make a city vastly less dependent on importing water. (Non-potable water use--toilets and laundry alone account for more than 40% of water use). Already around the world some new suburbs or small towns and cities are developing their own such systems; mega-cities would be divided into cells that did the same. In fact LA is really such a conglomerate of multiple cells. Needless to note that providing the infrastructure is so much more efficient and less costly for more dense cities. Shanghai, probably the world's largest city or soon to be, is being developed as a set of ten orbital or satellite cities, the whole connected by super-efficient mass transit.
While the entire human population can be crammed into an area the size of Texas, or the entire mid-section of the US with the density of Houston (a very spread-out city, some 600 square miles), that leaves the whole rest of the world for growing food supplies, and producing fresh water and energy. Besides, if the planet really warms the way that Al Gore says it will, that opens vast areas of Canada and Russia for farming and ranching, not to mention all the extra fresh water from melting ice. It's a moot point anyway, since we're all not going to live in this one big mythical city.