Urbanization began long ago, perhaps around the industrial revolution in the mid 19th century, but there is no doubt that humanity will partake in a new era of urban life. Currently three and a half billion people live in cities, around 55% of the world’s population. Conservative estimates project as much as 70% of people by 2050 will live within city limits around the globe. But what does that mean? Lets explore what a 15% increase would look like currently, but also what it looks like in thirty-three years. From Tokyo to Nairobi the accumulation of people in the hundreds of thousands or millions means a need for resource and space maximization. The debate ceases to exist whether or not humanity as a whole will grow by billions in the next thirty years, but entertain this: the difference between the conservative estimate of nine billion differs drastically than the projected 13 billion by certain population theorists. In the first model there are about 6-6.3 billion people in cities (9x.7), but the other has an astonishing 9-9.2 billion (13x.7)! So by the latter’s projections, the world will have more people in cities by 2050, than the total population presently.
Recently, The Arcadis Sustainable Cities Index took inventory of 100 cities across five continents and did so by inspecting three sustainability factors: social, environmental, and economic health. In regards to the social ranking, the global design firm Arcadis rates health, education, income inequality, work-life balance, crime, housing, and living costs. As it pertains to environmental rankings, the firm looked at energy consumption, renewable energy share, waste management, sanitation, water, and air pollution. The final metric, economic health inspects transport infrastructure, ease of doing business, GDP per capita, the importance in global economic networks, and employment rates. Now in fairness to the index, there are other measurements for their judgment of cities, but there is something interesting about the findings. No single city rated in the top five for more than one category, but there were several cities that had excellent metrics (two categories in the top 10): Stockholm, Vienna, London, Prague, and Hamburg.
In the United States, the only city with a top 10 finish in any category was New York City (#8 in economic health). The breakdown is Seattle led the way for the U.S. for environmental ratings at 35th and Boston finished 41st in Social. These are not glowing reviews; in fact they should humble Americans.
The shot clock reads 33 years until cities are flooded with an additional three to six billion people, how do we position ourselves for the best result and ‘easiest shot’? Perhaps, the Arcadis Sustainable Cities Index reveals and indicates the level of competition, to hold cities to an elevated standard and prepare cities to properly urbanize. It seems now, according to this index, cities around the world are not ready for the three billion they experience currently, much less the three to six more coming soon.
What can I do today to ensure a better tomorrow? How can I possibly make a dent in this immense and inevitable issue? Are there baby steps?
One way to ensure a brighter future is to live today with more purpose; being proactive in our communities and environments. With a deliberate effort to enhance the present we increase our chances for a more manageable 2050; we will have more space and resources to accommodate three to six billion more people. Recycling and mindfulness for resources over time, if done by the majority, will make an incredible difference in thirty years. Let’s take care of one another now and allow the next three decades building that momentum, so densely populated cities thrive instead of suffer.