Where will people live in the future?

Where will people live in the future?

Kate Raworth wrote her influential book, Doughnut Economics that links the reality of planetary boundaries with social boundaries in 2017, a couple of years before the pandemic.

Here is one of the many quotable quotes in her book.  

In other words, the vast cities and conurbations of today will not accommodate all the people who want to live in urban areas by 2030.

There are two reasons for this.

The first is that the global population continues to rise. By 2030 there will be 8.55 billion people on earth, one billion more than in 2017.

The second is that more and more people want to live in urban areas drawn by the prospects for betterment in the economic centres and pushed by the increasingly harsh realities of a rural existence — only those with a stash of cash want to escape to the country.

When I was born in 1961 two thirds of people were living on the land. That proportion fell to half in 2006 and by 2017 around 45% of people lived in rural areas. 

As the population has increased overall, so more people are living in town and the rural population has stabilised.

Project the current trends to 2030 and 60% of the 8.55 billion people are urban. 

This means the towns and cities around the world must accommodate another 650 million people in a decade.

Just let that number — 650 million —  sit for a moment.

Then consider that the largest city in the world today is Tokyo with 37.4 million souls.

Infrastructure equivalent to 20 Tokyo’s must be built to house these new arrivals.

Naturally, many economists see this as a huge opportunity as does your local carpenter, roofer and electrician. There is work to be done. 

The challenge of course is to house, clothe, and feed all these urbanites without rampaging through materials, burning dirty energy, and creating an external mess that nobody wants to clean up.

Live in the coutryside

One option is to make rural life more attractive.

Invest in rural infrastructure and services to keep people on the land by making country life just as good as the cities — rural folk would argue it already is. This would reduce the proportion of urban dwellers that would continue to rise but at a slower rate, maybe one that the urban infrastructure could handle.

The countryside in most countries already has a lot going for it. 

Clean air, wide-open spaces, low-cost housing, no traffic and no crowds. It has the outdoors.

What is missing is a way to make a living and to live with the security of essential services, entertainment and social engagement that cities offer.

Enter the distributed economy, working from home, diversified food production, and even a universal basic income.

COVID measures were a great test of such structural adjustments. It proved that society could adopt remote work, learning and even health readily and, if necessary, in a hurry.  

Similar options could easily accommodate people in the countryside. 

There are commercial opportunities too because making the country attractive to a wider audience is a lot more than teaching people how to be farmers. 

All it takes is vision and the new urban in the country will have a delightful view. 


Hero image by Illiya Vjestica on Unsplash 

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