The world is heading for a population of 10-billion estimated by 2050, so how will we manage? That’s a topic I saw on TED, then I also noticed another interesting topic and that asked the question what if we let kids help design cities?

As Project Agenda is all about development, planning, urbanisation and how projects evolve and are delivered, naturally I was drawn to these two thought-provoking topics.

Being focussed mainly on the future, I could see a plausible relationship between what the world might look like in 30 years-time and what kids today, who will inherit that world, might think about some aspects of city planning and urban design.

10 Billion People – Two Views

Until the 19th and 20th Centuries the world’s population just sort of bounced along at a stable level, health problems, diseases and limited access to resources kept a lid on population growth but, now all that has changed and the world’s population has experienced massive growth.

As we head to 10-billion people, most will on current trends, end up living in cities. That raises questions of how urban areas will manage with issues of wellbeing, consumption of resources including the very basics of water and food: how can resources be managed without the potential of major conflict, not to mention the impact of climate change.

There are many views on this topic, and later we will see that kids, even as young as 4-years have some similar concerns, even if they are expressed slightly differently.

Among the many views on population growth I’ll look at two here. One view is that technology and science will rescue our cities, improve them and that’s going to be even more important as we head for an age of megacities.

The central idea is that technology will help us deliver megacities that use fewer natural resources, with desalinated water and ultra-walkable neighbourhoods, so less transport woes, and very few personal cars.

As we reduce our consumption of natural resources these megacities will be surround by highly productive verdant lands to help feed us all with less focus on grain crops. Currently the world on has one city that even starts to approach the model of good order and stable urban living and that’s Tokyo.

The opposite view, but one that also has a reliance on technology, is a world populated by many more, smaller but inner-connected cities, turning back the concentrated trend away from large high-density megacities.

These smaller cities would act like networks that deliver the grunt of megacities without the concentration of population, there would be also be much less cars. Technology would link the workforce and hyper-powered trains would physically link the population.

Both options would still require lots of power for the technology involved in transport and communications and also some very basic services like access to water. Looking at power, nuclear power is one topic that gains attention, via smaller power plants, with the option of much more solar power spread across these decentralised cities.

Along with the impact of climate change, the role of better conservation of resources is also very topical, and currently a policy void exists. With water, as just one example it’s estimated that leaking infrastructure currently wastes 25% of supply.

This year Cape Town almost ran out of water, and that city, leaks are estimated to waste 30% of the local water supply.

With technology the glue for both of the options, it’s being suggested that perhaps one solution would be to blend both of these ideas. However, as we head to a worldwide population of 10-billion food, water, power and climate change will be common concerns.

What Kids Think

While we have urban planners, developers, governments and architects plus many others, all involved in delivering our cities, the kids who are 25% of the population have no voice.

It’s today’s kids those aged 0-18 who will inherit our future cities and some work with kids has been done in the USA on what a child friendly city might look like. Although these kids do not vote and so do not influence such matters, some of their concerns are just like those of adults, who do vote, and do directly impact how cities are planned and built.

When kids were asked to comment on what for example a city park might look like, they do not suggest a park made of sweets or one with bridges to water bomb pedestrians. They are however, concerned about waste and rubbish, safe lighting so they can walk home from school, tracks that are designed for walkers and bikes, with access to open space and waterways and ideas like public art.

These notions come out of classroom debates and show a greater level of maturity and concern for the city environment than might have generally been expected.

Kids are looking for happy and healthy cities, for them the sky is the limit, they are not so constrained by planning rules and regulations that can at times strangle design and innovation.

Just returning to the park design that kids were asked to suggest ideas for, these included steps that as you walked along them colour was sprayed onto the walls, room was suggested for more colour with flowers and seating with much more nature. For urban families, parks are their collective backyards.

Other comments were that the journey across the park and the wider city should be important not just the destination. Sounds familiar.

Other kid comments included making city access easier with better transport that was affordable and frequent, ideas that clearly suggest lots of room for design innovation.

Perhaps as we approach 10-billion people on earth more conversations, flexibility and partnerships are good agenda ideas whether you are 4, 18 or 60.