What happens when we run out of farmland, green recreation space, and forests that inhale carbon dioxide? An increasingly significant global problem is the amount of land and soil that is lost to urban development. With 70% of the world’s population expected to live in an urban area by 2050, efficient urban planning is essential to maintain a balance between urbanized land and its necessary agricultural component. Worldwide, approximately 14 million hectares of land will be used for urban purposes in developing countries between 1990 and 2020.
The problem is not just limited to developing countries. According to ISPRA, the Italian Institute for Environmental Protection and Research, urbanization in Italy occurred at a rate of 8 square meters per second in 2010. This is substantial, as 2% of the Italian GDP comes from agriculture, compared with 1.2% for the United States.
If we could give a slogan to the real estate boom of the last decade, it would read: “Bigger is better.” This event also seemed to be predicated upon the fact that society is fueled by wealth accumulation, instead of the very land that is at the heart of survival. And although it took an economic crisis to help bring this to light, we now have renewed focus on fixing this problem as well as many others over the coming century.
One simple solution is to reuse and renovate existing buildings as much as possible. The Popularise website is based on this objective. The concept takes crowdsourcing and applies it to local development to build bottom-up communities based on the needs of citizens, rather than the often garish visions of major development firms.
Even if 2000-2010 will be remembered as a lost decade, the next ones can still be successful. This will not come easily, but hard work and innovation will pay off. So, it is exigent that we create new models of urban development, food management, and sustainable practices.
What are your country’s most pressing issues, and how could we fix them?
Credits: Photographs by Maxwell Vidaver. Data linked to sources.