With 7 billion people on the planet, things have already begun to feel a bit hot and crowded, particularly in swelling urban centers -- but researchers warn that we've ain't seen nothing yet. Over the next 38 years, Earth's population is predicted to balloon to 9 billion, with most of those new additions taking up residence in our increasingly crowded cities. But not only does such an outlook of expanding sprawl spell trouble in terms of city planning, say experts, its environmental toll could put humanity itself at risk.
Given current estimates, around 1 million more people will be added to Earth's population each week between now and 2050 -- and most will be looking for a place to live in cities. Scientists say that if current trends of urbanization continue, cities across the globe will likely need to expand into an area comparable to France, Germany and Spain combined. There is one problem with this, of course: it may very well be too much for our finite planet to sustain.
The threats of unchecked urban sprawl were discussed at the recent "Planet Under Pressure" conference in London. According to a report from LiveScience, the international panel of scientists and researchers underscored the need for cities to implement specific changes to accomodate this rather sudden influx of new urbanites.
"The way cities have grown since World War II is neither socially or environmentally sustainable, and the environmental cost of ongoing urban sprawl is too great to continue," says Karen Seto of Yale University.
Thankfully, the expert panel offers a list of ambitious, though quite sensible, solutions to this not-too-distant challenge:
-Planning and investments in public infrastructure that encourage transit and accessibility;
-Better land-use zoning and building standards that increase efficiency and multiple uses of that land;
-Reversing the trend to ever-larger homes;
-Ending subsidies that promote low-density (sprawled) development and discourage compact development, or favor cars at the expense of public transit;
-Improving the quality of inner-city schools and addressing other growing urban challenges, such as growing income inequality, segregation, crime rates and heightened health threats including stress.