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Future Challenges in Urban Planning [video]

Crowded sidewalks, car horns, briefcases, and venti coffees — all framed by the towering buildings of a skyline downtown. Like it or not, these are the sights and sounds of city living. Metropolitan hubs attract people for many reasons: jobs, family, scenery, or reputation to name a few. But, as the urban population amasses so do the challenges associated with overpopulation.

It is estimated that a little over half of the world’s population lives in cities, and this percentage will climb to 68 percent in the next thirty years.

Cities come with a variety of opportunities, but also a litany of issues: environmental collapse, income inequality, personal isolation, and more are acutely felt within city limits. As urbanization continues to take hold, urban planning strategies must adapt. A large contingency of people will be affected by the following challenges associated with urban planning if changes aren’t implemented soon.

1. Limited Resources

The world population grew three times faster during the 20th century than it did during all of human history prior — an increase from 1.5 to 6.1 billion people in only 100 years. Population growth demands a lot from the planet, and there will come a time when the number of people on Earth outpaces available resources. Whether we want to believe it or not, that moment may arrive sooner rather than later.

For example, extracted materials such as metals, fossil fuels, and minerals are non-renewable but are essential to our modern way of life. It is estimated that individuals in the western world exhaust up to 125 pounds of mined materials a day. From heavy metals in electronics to fossil fuels, the urban lifestyle is highly-dependent on natural resources.


The effect of climate change on urban areas

Climate change is a direct impact of the overconsumption described above. According to NASA, a group of 1,300 independent scientific experts from countries all over the world concluded that there's a more than 95 percent probability that human activities over the past 50 years have warmed the planet.

Urban populations are especially vulnerable to the impending effects of climate change. Vulnerability depends on three factors:

  • exposure to stressors
  • sensitivity to impact
  • ability to adapt

For example, many major U.S. cities are located near coasts which face a higher exposure to climate impacts such as sea level rising. These urban areas are exposed to several stressors, very sensitive to climate impacts, and therefore must be especially adaptive to the effects of climate change.


In an effort to offset the environmental impact by buildings, researchers and construction professionals have come up with a wide array of solutions. Uncover 5 Unexpected Construction Materials that could actually be used for sustainable construction.


2. Social Inequality

As the population grows so does the divide among classes. Unchecked expansion brings in a particular group, drives out another, and ultimately makes room for the super-rich. The urban system benefits a particular socio-economic demographic — those with access to elite jobs can afford the elite cost-of-living downtown.

Redlining — exclusionary zoning practices that deny specific groups from affordable living — still segregate certain communities to this day. Enduring from early-20th century urban planning, redlining continues to affect the financial mobility of particular resident demographics.

According to The National Alliance to End Homelessness, the leading cause of vagrancy is income inequality. This organization found that over half a million people experience homelessness every year.

Whether due to redlining or something as seemingly innocuous as city growth, the urban system tends to favor a certain class. Left unchecked, cities will soon be exclusively inhabited by the wealthy.  


3. Loss of Community

People are drawn to cities with “character.” Portland, San Francisco, New Orleans, and other cities enjoy a robust tourism economy in part because of their endearing reputations. A notable museum, unique cuisine, a mixed-use mainstreet — a city with a niche helps attract tourists and locals alike.

However, as the population is increasing at a staggering rate, and as people flood into metropolitan areas, it is becoming increasingly difficult to retain a city’s identity and boost a sense of community.


Why community matters

Community is the difference between a “home” and a “location.” People who feel connected to their city are more likely to engage with local business, volunteer, and invest in the welfare of the population. So, while promoting a feeling of “belonging” might seem intangible — maybe even idealistic — there is a business case for community.

Community helps to set a city apart, but establishing an image doesn’t happen overnight. Local governments must make a concerted effort to promote community or else risk becoming just another urban sprawl.


Six alternative living trends to overcome the challenges in urban planning

From natural resources to spatial requirements, urban areas cannot sustain the compounding burden of overpopulation unless changes are made. Modern culture must adapt to modern challenges in order to remain viable. In response, people are turning to more modest housing options, and many alternative living trends have gained momentum:

  • Tiny homes: In a sense, the tiny home movement is a return to form. In the 1970’s, the average U.S. home was 1,780 sq. ft.; today, it is more than 2,600 sq. ft. Tiny homes are a response to overconsumption and offer modest residence for modest lifestyles.
  • Underground houses: Underground dwellings might seem like the fantasy of J.R.R Tolkien, but these alternative domiciles are a reality all around the world. Underground homes are popular in Italy and Australia for their energy efficiency and spatial minimalism.
  • HouseboatsHouseboats help free up real estate and promote sustainability. These boats are usually moored and meant to be permanent residences. This trend is popular in coastal European countries such as the Netherlands but have gained momentum worldwide.
  • Floating houses: Going off the point above, floating houses are similar to houseboats but without motors and with increased structural complexity. These structures are built on top of buoyant bases that are permanently anchored to one location. Floating houses offer a similar lifestyle as houseboats but also promote lasting community relationships thanks to their permanency.
  • Tree houses: These aren’t the tree houses you know from your childhood. Modern tree houses are equipped with electricity, Internet, and plumbing. Like underground homes, tree houses offer eco-friendly, sustainable living to those looking to escape from modern life.
  • Shipping containersShipping container homes, or “cargotecture,” are a low cost, durable, and eco-friendly option. These containers are stackable to help improve space optimization.

Overall, downsizing is an effective response to the challenges associated with urban planning. By limiting environmental impact, individuals can exact control on a micro level, and over time, one-by-one, these lifestyle changes help make a difference in combating urban planning issues.

Do these housing options have lasting power? Only time will tell. Let us know in the comments which alternative housing options you think will go mainstream.


For more information on construction trends, and the technology powering the industry, see: 7 Tech Trends Driving the Construction Industry.