This is a question that has been on the industry’s lips for quite some time, and a notion that is now gaining global momentum with the BBC’s release of their ‘The World at 7 Billion’ reportage. Infrastructure issues have been raised in an increasing manner as the latest statistics show that the world’s population is currently growing by 200,000 people per day.
This is however not a concrete outlook to be overdramatised to cause a frenzy. We are dealing with a notion that is so incredibly liquid, dramatic industry movements could in fact cause more harm than good, as in the case of China’s empty city of Ordos. It is due to this fact that the industry, especially in this country, have taken steps to plan for future population developments and increased city densities, without barging ahead with drastic construction or infrastructure efforts.
To understand the responsibility of city planners worldwide, it is important to have an understanding of historical population movements. In 1804 the world’s population sat at approximately 1 billion. Since then it has increased drastically, with the latest UN statistics indicating a prudently estimated population of 8 billion by 2025, 9 billion by 2050 and 10 billion by 2100. While this does seem extreme it is important to take into account a number of varying factors.
First and foremost is an increasing human lifespan. Due to technological, educational and medicinal advancements our life expectancy has almost doubled in recent times, with most of the world developing aging populations. In addition to the population growth at the far end of the age spectrum, the survival rates of babies has increased in the same manner. Babies are being born earlier and more safely with medical intervention, in fact with the creation of IVF and further fertilisation treatments, babies that never could be born throughout the entirety of man kind have become an everyday event.
Herein lies the key factor to the liquid nature of population statistics and the reason that city planners and industry alumni are incredibly cautious in planning for population explosions. While key buildings such as hospitals and especially aged care facilities are an important modern industry focus, intensive global housing construction is not taking precedence. Why? Because as quality of life increases, so does the cost of living, making it more expensive to have children, thus many countries across the world could in fact see a decrease in population, with the average women going from conceiving 4 children, to just 2.2.
This same dichotomy is seen in the case of increased global density. While many major city’s are feeling a density squeeze, that is for the most part due to city planning, with the globe’s land mass more than able to cater to the rising population.
This has been a major focus for Australian city planners, who are arguing that increased density can in fact be a result of bad planning in addition to population growth, rather than simply lack of space in an increasing number of cases.
In his 2009 report ‘Assessing the Infrastructure Issues of Victoria’s Population Growth’ for the Victorian Infrastructure Summit, Professor Bill Russell explores the ways in which planners are able to cater to this population growth, and how it can in fact aid in the development of a country as a whole.
Russell’s report shows that Victoria alone is home to approximately five million people. This is expected to grow by 50% in the next 30 years. Melbourne alone accounts for 73% of this population, which is also expected to grow by nearly 42% over the next 20 years.
While the factors are extensive, from fertility to migration and changing household sizes (all of which are liquid, and do not solidly promise to grow, although that is most likely), what Russell does offer is some solutions and management plans.
These include increasing housing density along transport routes, the repurposing of urban brownfield sites, increasing density in new growth areas, the development of dual occupancy residences, and the decentralisation of population.
What is important to note in this case is the subtlety of infrastructure plans. While it would be simple to cause a media frenzy in creating a hyperbole effect in regards to a growing population, it is simply not relevant. At the end of the day extensive population growth is a very possible reality. But that is speculation. The best the industry can do is prepare for any eventuality, with a focus on building smart, rather than building large.