As the world continues to urbanization its is expected that by 2050 over 70% of the world’s population will be living in cities. This trend is especially pronounced in in the US where upwards of 90% of the population will be living in cities by this date. This trend is considered largely good news in regards of sustainability and ecology.
As we abandon suburban sprawl in favor of high density housing, major changes will occur in the societal, economical and ecological realms . While there have been both proponents and opponents on this issue of density, especially on the subject of energy consumption and green house gas emissions, undoubtedly the effects will be unique for each region. Climate, cultural, wealth and politics will offer challengers and opportunity, something which is often ignored in “one-size fits all” theories.
The Puget Sound is expected to reach close to 5 million residents by 2040 and Seattle proper is estimated to expand by 20% (or 120,000) additional inhabitants. That said, what has not been quite figured out in these estimates is the advent of the self driving car coupled with soaring housing costs and crippling student debt. Given the aforementioned conditions and the potential advent of streamlines/hyper efficient transportation options, it would not be surprising to see a reverse migration to suburbs and rural locations.
Despite Seattle attempting to turn itself into a European city it will never become one due to the vast cultural differences. The inherent difference of Americans of who, in the eyes of Europeans, live to work, instead of, work to live, exemplifies the depth of cultural disparity in terms of the wants and needs of the culture that resides within the city.
These forces will result in many families, especially those with young children, to turn away from the city for both comfort, convenience and necessity. Those within the fields of the built environment will undoubtedly influence policy, in regards to this situation, to match their current interests. But this is a chance to establish small knit, resilient, communities, such as Devon or Amish country, mentioned by distinguished professor of environmental studies and politics at Oberlin College, David Orr. These small communities, according to Orr, exemplify the Jeffersonian vision for America, one which creates a society capable of preserving democracy.
Orr writes in his book, The Nature of Design, that these towns and communities, have the ability to sustained themselves due to their:
- small units dispersed in space
- short linkages between modules
- simplicity and repairability
- diversity of components
- decentralized control
- large margins
- quick feedback
In the 21st century, towns could expand on this Jeffersonian agrarian model, capable of not only producing their own food but also energy, shelter, health, recreation and as well financing (Orr 114). These centers will be able to withstand the turbulence of the global market, one which is only increasing in volatility. Communities such as these will truly be sustainable.