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Urban Transformation: Planetary Threat or Global Opportunity?

Demographic shifts, globalization, and migration are already massively altering the very building blocks of global culture. Urban centers are poised to be the center of radical growth and change over the next 100 years as billions of people take up residence. Will this transformation evolve into a planetary threat or become a call for innovation and renewal?
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By Mary Meehan, Panoramix Global

(First of three parts. Stay tuned to the BringMeTheNews Business page for the next two pieces) 

Demographic shifts, globalization, and migration are already massively altering the very building blocks of global culture. Urban centers are poised to be the center of radical growth and change over the next 100 years as billions of people take up residence. Will this transformation evolve into a planetary threat or become a call for innovation and renewal? The hard choices made now by citizens, private sector and policy makers will tell the tale.

Population Growth

Is bigger better? That is the central question at the core of any conversation around how our cities and urban life will change in the coming decades considering the UN has estimated that the world population will cross 10 billion by 2085.

Density

Half the world’s people, 3.5 billion, now live in cities and this expanding concentration brings the reality of megacities in to the mainstream. A megacity is a metro area of 10 million or more and there are already 21 megacities across the planet like Tokyo, Mumbai and Mexico City (in 1975 there were only three) but mega is not enough in some cases. Currently, megacities like Hong Kong, Shenhzen, Guangzhou, China (home to about 120 million people) are merging to form vast “megaregions” that stretch hundreds of miles and represent more than a 100 million people. These mammoth enclaves are redefining our sense of place and home while placing enormous stress on the already bulging seams of strained or absent infrastructure.

Aging

For the first time in history we are now a global population of more 60+ elders than 0-4 year old children a dramatic change in the balance of the historical status quo of “replacement” population. Only ten years ago the ratio was even but by 2050 it is estimated there will be 3.5 times more seniors than children and developed countries will be most affected with 22.3% of the population over the age of 65 by the end of the century. How will we care for our elders? Who will drive a productive economy? Healthcare, housing, families, employers, employees, migration will all face a shifting reality.

Balance

In 1950, 32% of the world’s people lived in today’s rich countries. By 2100, only 13% will. The growth in population over the next 50 years will be largely in Africa and Asia and in countries that are less stable. Here is another way to think about the next 3 billion coming our way in that time. “Three billion is 3,000 million people.” says Joel Cohen, professor of populations at the Columbia University.” It means that from 2000 to 2050, developing countries have to add urban infrastructure for a million people every five days from now to 2050.” What will matter is whether these countries stabilize their governments and educate a population to support jobs and economic growth for a thriving society.

How will we—individuals, cities, countries and regions– cope with this influx of people? The need for stable balanced global food supply, available education and housing, and smart infrastructure has hit a crisis point. Private and public sectors must come together to build viable solutions for sustainable growth or the stress on the planet and people will be disastrous.

Mary Meehan is co-founder of Minneapolis-based Panaramix Global. 

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