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According the the Urban Land Institute, major forces now converging will influence urban growth over the next 40 years:

CLIMATE CHANGE–Climbing temperatures, rising seas, and severe weather will change crops, settlement patterns, and livability of huge regions.
INFRA STRUCTURE–Deferred maintenance will disrupt communications networks and other assumed public amenities.
WATER– Vulnerable sources, diminishing reserves, and pollution runoff will threaten this finite resource.
ENERGY–Peaking oil prices will increase security risks due to imports. Emissions will have to be reduced.
DEMOGRAPHICS–Growing populations combined with resource scarcity will lead to regional migrations.
CAPITAL MARKETS–Intense concentration of capital will mean more competition for limited funds, with greater challenges of assessing value and risk.
METRO METRICS–Urban and economic competition will heighten worldwide, with two billion more people in the middle class, adding to tensions about workforce readiness, emissions reductions, mobility indices, public health, water availability, and geopolitical risk.
THE CITY WILD–Natural assets will be re-introduced at the city level, so that the drama of urban life extends into nature, re engineered waterfronts, new forests, and restored stream valleys.
HIDDEN DECAY–Much of our decades-old utility and transportation infrastructure will need to be replaced, probably with decentralized and alternative technologies.
TRANSPORT BLUES–High fuel costs will impact auto-centric mobility, and we’ll need more transport mode options.
GREEN BUILDING BONANZA–Green homes and workplace buildings will be needed: millions more in the United States alone. These would provide opportunities for sweeping changes across the entire building stock, and opportunities to reshape cities for a sustainable future.
FULL-SPECTRUM HOUSING–Food and transport challenges, new immigrant communities, and a wide range of ages will require a diversity of housing stock.
PLAN I T. BUILD IT.–Public and private interests will have to align to develop large-scale projects, with new uses for discarded sites, creative partnerships, regenerative design and a sharing of both risks and rewards.
CLICK, LEARN, GO, GET.–Evolving information technologies will frame the marketplace, enriching interactions between buyers and sellers.

Source: Urban Land Institute; interviews for this story


“By the latter part of this century, low-lying coastal areas will most likely be inundated,” Heinberg continues. “Food production will have fallen sharply as a result of more frequent floods and droughts. The only good news with regard to the future of our climate is that t he amounts of oil and coal we will be able to extract are probably much smaller than the amounts assumed in the worst case emissions scenarios of many climate experts.”

Divided We Fall
One major obstacle to a green future, Mander says, is the vast and growing rich-poor wealth gap.

“The wealthiest half percent in the U.S. now has more economic wealth than the lowest 45-50%,” he says. “The current system is structured for the benefit of billionaires. Unless we break away from their control, a small number of powerful rich will continue to rule the system with increased private power.”

Mander explains that America’s most affluent base their perception on how things will go in the future on how well they’ve gone in the past. “The system worked well when we lived in a resource-rich world,” he says. “But that’s not the case anymore. Now that our base of resources is gone, the established ways of capitalism are too expensive and destructive to keep up.

“What’s more,” he continues, “we’ve gone from a material economy to a virtual, fictional economy in which Wall Street uses money to buy money and has no connection with anything in the real world, so it’s increasingly a casino economy.”

Mander says the super rich have been increasingly able to cripple government’s ability to develop sustainable modes of transportation, sustainable resource management, or to protect “the commons.”

“By buying politicians through their expansive campaign donations they can gain control of government regulations, including those that impact daily living for everyone, such as environmental regs, privatization of public utilities and water, tax breaks, and subsidies for industries,” he explains. “With industry in nearly no-growth mode, service areas of government provide a new way of gaining control and profits. If you have enough money, you can effectively buy-up politicians, and influence the government process.”

Heinberg believes that the trend toward increasing concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands could soon end–and it may not be pleasant for those at the top.

“As the economy contracts, people with enormous wealth will no doubt go to great lengths to maintain current levels of disparity,” he says, “but–as we’re seeing in the Middle East, North Africa, Wisconsin, Ireland, and Greece–there are limits to the general public’s willingness to go along with that.”

Conscious Change
How will people experience coming decades? Will they live in smaller, but comfortable housing, in a more codependent society–or follow the status quo no matter what the cost?

“If we don’t change our expectations, people will experience the coming era as one of privation and disappointment,” Heinberg asserts.

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