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Denser, More Efficient Cities Key To Coping With Population Explosion

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Cities are expected to expand the combined size of Texas, California and Montana in the next 20 years, adding environmental and cultural strains from population growth and shifts away from rural living, experts said Tuesday at a conference in London called “Planet Under Pressure.”

By 2030, humanity’s total urban footprint will expand by an additional 1.5 million square kilometers (579,000 square miles), according to the conference.

Where to house the additional urbanites with as little environmental harm as possible will become crucial as the world’s population increases by an estimated 1 million additional people each week for the next 38 years, experts said.

The American model of urban sprawl won’t work, raising the question of how to design cities that can sustainably cope with population increases, said Karen Seto, a professor of urban environment at Yale University.

“The North American suburb has gone global, and car-dependent urban developments are more and more the norm,” Seto said in a statement. “The way cities have grown since World War II is neither socially [nor] environmentally sustainable.”

Reversing the trend toward ever-larger homes will be a big part of designing efficient cities, the researchers at the conference said.

In some countries, urban planners are starting from scratch; the United Arab Emirates and China are both building “zero carbon cities” that aim to run completely on renewable energy.

The UAE’s Masdar City began construction in 2008, and aims to house between 45,000 and 50,000 people. Cars will be banned in Masdar City and plans call for power to come from renewable sources such as solar, wind, geothermal and hydrogen energy.

But what about existing cities? How can they be retrofitted to cope with additional billions of residents?

The United Nations estimates that the total urban population will reach 6.3 billion in 2050, nearly double from 3.5 billion in 2012. Researchers at the “Planet Under Pressure” conference say efficiency and density will be key for urban planners now and in the near future.

That means more planning and investment in public infrastructure, including mass transit, and land-use zoning and building standards that encourage multiple uses of space.

Buildings and land are only part of the equation, though; denser cities will require efficient mechanisms to combat poverty, crime and threats to public health, the scientists say.

Ways to improve urban operations include digital health records, utility meters to continuously monitor the electric grid along with gathering data and feedback from citizens via mobile phones, according to Shobhakar Dakal, executive director of the Global Carbon Project.

“Our focus should be on enhancing the quality of urbanization — from urban space, infrastructure, form and function, to lifestyle, energy choices and efficiency,” Dakal said.

A century ago, there were fewer than 20 cities with a million or more residents. Now there are 450 such cities, and the coming decades will see those numbers rise.

Researchers at the “Planet Under Pressure” conference are expected to recommend urban sustainable development plans at a UN summit in June.

“We have a unique opportunity now to plan for a coming explosion of urbanization in order to decrease pressure on ecosystems, improve the livelihoods of billions of people and avoid the occurrence of major global environmental problems and disasters,” said Roberto Sanchez-Rodriguez, a professor emeritus of environmental sciences at the University of California Riverside.

8 Comments on "Denser, More Efficient Cities Key To Coping With Population Explosion"

  1. BillT on Wed, 28th Mar 2012 3:42 am 

    Explosion of Urbanization is not going to happen. Why? I ask, HOW? A new condo tower takes the energy of millions of barrels of oil. Construction is energy intensive from materials to finished product. There is no way the contracting global GDP is going to support much real growth, ever.

    Peaked oil production has slammed the door on expansion of anything that requires energy. The next decades will not see growth but wars for what remains. Any apparent growth now will be at the expense of something else that will decrease. Asia appears to be growing, but it is really only offsetting the shrinking of the Western developed countries. The real world GDP is barely remaining static and will soon begin the decent to a much lower and slower world.

  2. Kenjamkov on Wed, 28th Mar 2012 5:54 am 

    IF there were resources to do this, the answer is simple. Build down, not up. Leave the top soil and dig down. Artificial views are better anyways. 😉 Keep the gardens and the farms above ground, put the offices underground. In fact have the Morlocks work the gardens, they are more efficient than farms if done correctly.

    Another route would be tiered pyramids where the outsides would house gardens.

    But like BillT says it is too late to do anything but try to survive.

    Another thing you can do is take every 4000 sq ft home and divide it so 4 families can live there rather than one.

  3. JohnRM on Wed, 28th Mar 2012 5:54 am 

    BillT, we are in complete agreement. Unless something changes dramatically, in the energy game, very soon, this will never come to pass. We will only be packing more people into what space already exists. Working adults will be having their children and their parents living with them. Excessive electronics, airline travel, and expensive conveniences will go along with an end to growth. Half the population will huddle together in the cities, in poverty. The other half will be fighting off gangs of criminals to protect what little they have left. Any empty space for building will be turned over to growing whatever food will grow there. In the end, hopefully it will bring families closer together without all of today’s distractions.

  4. SilentRunning on Wed, 28th Mar 2012 6:02 am 

    The ultimate solution to the population explosion will be a population crash. We’re apparently too stupid and/or evil to do the humane thing: Stabilize our numbers to fit what the planet can provide.

  5. DC on Wed, 28th Mar 2012 8:00 am 

    Every single one of theses articles makes has an unspoken idea behind it. Always accomodate growth, never try to slow, stop or reverse, but expend resources to accomodate it at every turn. What does that do, its just encorages the very growth that is the root of the problem. Like how we figured out that building more roadways actually creates more traffic and congestion, not less. Same idea at work here. Now of cource, the premise of the article is 100% correct, dense compact cites are more efficent, but only if they were designed that way from the very start.

    Ours have been rebuilt at huge expense of materials, energy and labor to accomodate one thing and one thing only cars. Undoing that is almost impossible, a fact general mortors, Ford, the oilcos etc pretty much knew full well when they took over tranportaion policy for most of the western world. Cites built for cars are almost useless for anyting else, the retrofits will be too expensive and the even when we do try, the results are often dis-appointing at best. Painting oneself into a corner comes is the image that comes to my mind….

  6. cephalotus on Wed, 28th Mar 2012 1:19 pm 

    You do not need to build skyscrapers and you do not need to built a new Kowloon Walled City.

    But ysou have to replace suburbia with 4 store or 5 store buildings and a mixed city of places to work, places to shop and places to relax. Only heavy industries schould be built in distance to living spaces but available by public transport.

    Remove car ownership, reduce car usage and replace suburbia with the conscept above and you will increase population density by the factor 10, reduce energy useage by factor 3-30 and you will end with more trees per person in this city than before.

  7. Kenz300 on Wed, 28th Mar 2012 4:59 pm 

    Over population is the problem not the solution. We need to balance population, food, water, energy and jobs.

  8. BillT on Thu, 29th Mar 2012 9:49 am 

    Growth is grinding to a halt. Soon, it will be obvious that it has started to contract and the financial system of the world will collapse, taking global trade and shipping with it. It will slow or stop all oil investments and recovery.

    The wars will be fought as long as a country has the energy to do it, but, eventually, even wars will be down to throwing rocks, or we will be gone in an atomic vaporization and roaches will inherit the earth.

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