No 'Blade Runner' Cities in U.S. Future, Expert Says
In the future, the U.S. population will probably live in suburbs, not in the mega-cities predicted by thinkers and sci-fi authors, according to two studies.
CREDIT: Warner Bros. Studios
Science fiction is full of dirty, dense mega-cities, and the world's people seem to be obliging the futuristic authors by moving from the countryside to big cities at a rate of 180,000 a day, according to the World Bank.
But the future of the U.S. looks more like Irvine, California, than New York, New York, argues Tim De Chant, a science writer who blogs about urbanization at Per Square Mile. According to two studies he analyzes, America will grow by adding suburbs, not dense cities.
By 2025, the U.S. population will have grown by 18 percent, and U.S. land use by 57 percent. Towns will gobble up farmlands and especially forests. "Forests, in particular, have been the largest source of land converted to developed uses in recent decades," researchers wrote in a 2004 paper.
By 2025, some 9.2 percent of the contiguous states will be developed, the 2004 paper predicted. That number didn't include land that will be farmed, logged or mined to support towns.
Though that suggests plenty of breathing room, suburbs can be harder on the environment than dense cities. Suburbs break up ecosystems into areas that are too small for many plant and animal species. They also encourage more driving and greater energy consumption than cities do.
Some current trends may steer the U.S. away from the spread of strip malls and cul-de-sacs. Rising fuel prices may drive people to live more densely, and the slow housing market may keep people from building, or may encourage them to build smaller houses.
Still, De Chant writes, "I think we should prepare for a future filled with suburbs." Apparently Americans love suburbs. The answer, then, is to build suburbs in a sustainable way, such as ensuring they treat their own runoff water from heavy rains instead of simply dumping the dirty water into a nearby creek.
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If the mega-cities of sci-fi aren't going to grow in the U.S., where will they be? Private consulting group Demographica measures urban growth around the world. In the most recent update, in April 2011, the most populous urban areas in the world were:
- Tokyo-Yokohama, with 36,690,000 people
- Delhi, 22,630,000
- Seoul-Incheon, 22,525,000
- Jakarta, 21,245,000
- Manila, 21,295,000
- Mumbai, 21,290,000
- New York metropolitan area, including areas of New Jersey and Connecticut, 20,710,000
The densest urban areas were in Bangladesh, India and China. The U.S. doesn't show up until number 677, for Los Angeles, including Riverside-San Bernadino, with 6,200 people per square mile.
As for the future, Demographica predicted the world's five most populous urban areas in 2030 will be Jakarta, Tokyo-Yokohama, Manila, Delhi and Mumbai.