POPULATION GROWTH AND MEGACITIES
Right now, humanity is statistically young, fertile and increasingly urban. In Africa for example, “The median age of Nigeria is just 18, and under 20 across all Africa’s 54 countries; the fertility rate of the continent’s 500 million women is 4.4 births.” The global population growth is expected to rise from 7.3 billion to 8.5 billion by 2030 - driven by growth in developing countries, and growing numbers of young people choosing city living over rural life.
With this population rise, it’s predicted that over the next decade, cities will grow at an astonishing rate - by 2030 around 60% of people will live in urban areas, according to the UN. It’s also expected that this urban ‘explosion’ will lead to the growth of ‘megacities’ (typically cities with populations of over 10 million people) over the coming 30 years or so - more cities will be home to over 10 million people, and cities like Lagos could be home to up to 100 million people.
By 2050, two out of every three people are likely to be living in cities or other urban centres. Interestingly, young people have not only been a driving force in the urban resurgence in the last 20 years, but they “favor living in central urban neighborhoods significantly more than previous generations did at the same stages in life.”
Growing demand means growing strain on infrastructure. Thus, the predicted settlement pattern - over the next decade and into future decades - highlights the increasing need for more sustainable planning and public services, such as transport, health care, water, energy and education:
“Whether those cities develop into sprawling, chaotic slums – with unbreathable air, uncontrolled emissions and impoverished populations starved of food and water – or become truly sustainable depends on how they respond. Many economists argue that population growth is needed to create wealth, and that urbanisation significantly reduces humanity’s environmental impact. Other observers fear cities are becoming ungovernable – too unwieldy to adapt to rising temperatures and sea levels, and prone to pollution, water shortages and ill health.” John Vidal
URBAN COLIVING AND WORKING
How will young people live in these urban centres? In close proximity. In developing countries we’re already seeing the effects of slums and informal settlements as a result of increased urbanisation, and these living situations are likely to remain a reality without drastic infrastructure investment.
In developed countries, communal living or co-living could become an increasingly attractive prospect for many young, educated, people. Coliving is not a new modern phenomenon, especially among young digital natives. For example, communal houses for content creators on platforms like YouTube and TikTok are considered great for nurturing collaboration and creativity, among other things. ‘Hype House’ is a home for TikTok creators in LA - there are 19 members of the house (4 living there full-time):
“Collab houses are beneficial to influencers in lots of ways. Living together allows for more teamwork, which means faster growth, and creators can provide emotional support for what can be a grueling career…” NY Times
Communal living, in this privileged sense, is about collective professional success and thriving. As one of the ‘Hype House’ members puts it “This whole house is designed for productivity. If you want to party, there’s hundreds of houses that throw parties in L.A. every weekend. We don’t want to be that. It’s not in line with anyone in this house’s brand. This house is about creating something big, and you can’t do that if you’re going out on the weekends.” NY Times.
It is also important to note that city living is as much about connecting with others as it is about connecting with diverse places and having unique experiences. Being drawn to the city is also young people being drawn to one another. As psychotherapist Esther Perel puts it “the quality of our relationships determines the quality of our lives.” With this sense of community, and ‘youthification,’ in mind, we can expect big cities to have more distinct neighbourhoods and ‘mini cities’. In general, bigger cities are likely to be understood/structured - and potentially ‘branded’ - as connected mini ecosystems rather than one larger whole.
LESS DRIVING, MORE PUBLIC TRANSPORT: DESIGN FOR PEOPLE
Accessibility and opportunity are major reasons young people are attracted to urban living - living closer to work/potential employers, to friends and to various amenities - entertainment, gyms etc... People and things are as abundant in cities as the sense of individual potential is. This physical accessibility sees licence-holding, car ownership and driving, amongst young adults decline in many developed countries over recent decades.
Higher densities mean car sharing economies (think Uber / car pooling and rental - less of a focus on ‘ownership’) and public transport are likely to become even more of a priority. With cars no longer ‘driving’ urban planning, it is likely that alternative forms of transport, like cycling and shared transport schemes (eg. city bike and scooters), will be accommodated for. Urban dwellers will benefit from things like biking superhighways - like London’s blue cycling highways. Other things to expect in the coming decade of urban travel include Uber’s flying taxi service (expected in 2023) and autonomous driving vehicles.
Ultimately, people will become even more of a priority in cities and urban centres. Having services, like shops, within walking distance will be expected - and narrower streets suitable for pedestrians will bring people, literally, closer together. Urban landscapes will be designed to be more inclusive and efficiently suited to the needs of people and the requirements of specific communities / localities.
Wellness, of course will be a big part of city living - especially in the context of sustainability and health. With 90% of our time already being spent indoors, air pollution levels rising, and city space at a ‘premium’, designers and planners will continually come up with new ways to bring nature into cities and improve people’s everyday lives. For example:
“In Brooklyn, the 2,000 Gallon Project uses dumpsters planted with trees and vegetation to divert stormwater that might ordinarily overflow with sewage into Gowanus Canal.” Elsewhere “Washington, D.C., and a dozen other cities have committed to a 40 percent canopy [trees] cover goal. D.C. is already close—about 38.7 percent—and it’s moved to protect “heritage trees” whose trunks are 100 inches or more in circumference.”
This also means that building design and its impact will be an even bigger focus. Naturally, climate change planning will be a priority too - not only in terms of building infrastructure resilience and defense against disruptive weather, but to improve infrastructure and combat its negative environmental impacts via ‘net zero’ buildings and encouraging more sustainable behaviour among citizens. It’s likely we could see young people bring typically ‘countryside’ or rural traditions into cities eg. groups coming together to live in close proximity/communal spaces and grow food/manage waste together.
CITIES AND TECH
Living in close proximity as part of a large ‘market’ base can have many benefits - especially when it comes to convenience and personalisation. Same-day Amazon delivery on about a million items is a reality for many city dwellers in the US. Such localised delivery systems are set to scale globally to deliver at speed within 1-3Km radius, so you’ll have things like underground warehouses storing goods where robots could access them and then deliver to your front door within an hour. Furthermore, AI will be utilised to predict the needs of neighbourhood, stocking in advance what people are most likely going to want to buy. Toyota even recently announced plans to build a futuristic city at the base of Mt. Fuji in Japan, filled with automated technology that it says will “liberate the residents from basic tasks.”
But as we’ve mentioned, this proximity advantage also has cons - such as the easy spread of disease. It is likely that technology will advance the standard of living in cities while also becoming a major concern:
“Another trend has been the increase in mass urban surveillance. This phenomenon is growing at 8 percent a year in developed countries and 30 percent in developing countries, largely in response to feelings of insecurity and growing threats. Cybersecurity has also become a major concern in recent years, as cities and countries are increasingly reliant on technology that is vulnerable to hacking and cyberattacks.” Citiscope
Youth who are gravitating toward these urban centres are shaping the future of our changing world already. Sustaining a high quality of living will become even more of a concern, for everyone. Rapid population growth and urbanisation provide huge opportunities for brands and businesses, but the risks that they present cannot be overstated. The pressure this population growth (and climate change) will put on our (already fragile) food and water supplies alone demands huge scale innovation and system change. It is crucial to examine your own business and brand operations with these long-term trends in mind now.
The implications of urbanisation pressure forces us to beg the question, if governments don’t respond adequately to demands on urban infrastructure, who will lead the way? What could the role for corporations, businesses and brands be? If it is to be a meaningful role, in service of young communities, we need to embrace the inevitability of change, the importance of innovation and creativity, and ensure people and planet remain at the forefront of our plans.
Young people’s sense of place and home is extremely important and is set to become more powerful in the coming decade. As the climate emergency - and our response to it - develops over the next decade, physical, philosophical and intellectual challenges and questions related to our earth will force us all to consider our sense of home. What our home means to us, where and how we chose to spend our time will become more considered. Despite a preference for urban living, a connection with nature - inside and outside of cities will become even more of a premium. Could you invest in creating a natural urban space now, that would bring long-term value to young people?