City: 2050
10.17.2017
Joe Pobiner in Livable Cities, Planning & Urban Design, Vibrant Communities, Vibrant Communities, What Makes My City Livable, cities, driverless cars

What will your city look like in 2050?

Peering into the future is a favorite exercise for planners and designers. From the Chicago 1893 Columbian Exhibition to New York City’s two Worlds Fairs (1939 and 1965) and beyond, the future was optimistic and filled with cool technology and architecture. But not all views of the future were so hopeful. George Orwell’s dystopian novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four” (published in 1949) looked 35 years forward and painted a not-so-rosy vision of the future.

In 2017, 1984 (the year) is a distant memory. But what do we think the future will look like 30 years or so from now? And what will City: 2050 be like?

Population: 2050

City: 2050 will be more dense, larger and older.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, United Nations, Pew Research and other sources, the U.S. will grow to 438 million people by 2050 – up 35% from our 2017 population of 326 million. (Global population grows to 9.7 billion by 2050.) And upwards of 75% of future Americans will live in cities and urbanized areas (up from 50% in 2008). In other words, by 2050 there will the same number of Americans living in cities as there are in the entire nation today!

Lifespans and the median population age are projected to increase. The UN predicts the U.S. median age will be 41 years old by 2050, up from today’s 37. That might not seem like a lot, but the rise in median age is directly attributable to second-fastest growing segment of the population – those 65 and older. And those future seniors are today’s Millennials and Generation Z-ers.

Mobility: 2050

City: 2050 will be more multi-modal and less reliant on cars:

Architecture: 2050

It is not unreasonable for a building to have a lifespan of 30 years or more. So today’s new buildings currently under construction will be important components of our built environment in City: 2050. Architectural design will undoubtedly change over the next 33 years, so expect our cities to be a mix of old and new, just as they are today. What other changes can we expect?

Infrastructure: 2050

Supporting 438 million Americans will require massive reinvestments in our current infrastructure – water, sewer, storm drainage, electrical power, telecommunications, etc. And if we rely on today’s delivery systems, our carbon footprint will actually increase, even with denser development patterns. American infrastructure must evolve to be more efficient, flexible, and decentralized.

Take electric power. Today, thousands of homes already generate their own power through solar, wind or geothermal, and are selling unused kilowatt-hours back to the grid. This is attractive to homeowners and it helps decentralize our aging power grid, which experts agree is vulnerable to cyber-attack. Decentralizing even a small portion of the grid could have significant cost-savings and environmental benefits over construction of new power plants. And the ongoing improvements in solar cell efficiency make this more attractive every day, especially given our desire for more digital devices that require recharging. But expect resistance (again, pun intended) from power companies to a future decentralized grid.

Improvements in rainwater harvesting and small sanitary sewer “batch plants” can have similar positive impacts on drainage and sewer systems. At the same time, new investments in our legacy infrastructure will still be required in order to provide reliable water, sanitary sewer and storm drainage services.

Conclusion: 2050

At the end of the day, there is no singular vision of what cities will look like in the future. Take a look around – cities in 2017 are unique and different. Expect that same level of diversity and local vernacular, combined with an overlay of new technology and opportunity.

Joe Pobiner, FAICP, CNU-A, is a master planner and urban designer in Gensler's Dallas office. He specializes in applying responsible planning and urban design principles that strengthen the physical, natural, economic, and cultural frameworks of our rapidly urbanizing planet. Contact him at joe_pobiner@gensler.com.
Article originally appeared on architecture and design (http://www.gensleron.com/).
See website for complete article licensing information.