National Geographic has devoted substantial coverage to the impact of population growth. In 2011 we launched Seven Billion, a series that explored population growth through the lenses of demographics, food security, climate change, fertility trends, and biodiversity. In 2014 we featured Feeding Nine Billion, a collection of articles examining how we can provide food for all—with 2050 as the horizon—as the global population expands and climate change impacts agriculture.
As economic engines, cities naturally are fueling this growth: Today more than half the world’s population lives in an urban area. By 2050 that figure is expected to rise to 66 percent. Megacities—those with more than 10 million inhabitants—are also surging. There are 29 such cities; by 2030 there will be 41.
The challenge: Cities must transform and re-engineer the urban landscape to accommodate more people while conserving finite natural resources. And yet as repositories of human ingenuity, cities offer case studies. In 2016 we launched Urban Expeditions to explore those smart and sustainable solutions—with a special emphasis on transportation, food systems, and design and buildings. We spotlight how cities are innovating and re-engineering for the 21st century, with a focus on sustainable practices and projects and the people behind them.
In Austin, Texas, the country’s fastest growing metro region, we reported on efforts to expand local agriculture, its zero-waste initiative, and its green building program—some say the nation’s first—and how that reinvented once industrial areas, drawing people back to the city's core. In Dubai, we profiled the audacious city's equally audacious goal to go green, starting with converting to renewable energy and building better.
We illustrate why cities are committing to green building, and particularly since we spend most of our lives indoors, we’ll explore the latest research and design elements that translate into positive benefits for both our physical health and mental functioning.
Readers may ask: What does it mean to be sustainable? At its essence, sustainability—as originally outlined in the 1987 Brundtland Report—is “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs." Today that definition has evolved to encompass environmental impact, economics, and social equity.
Urban Expeditions is an initiative made possible by a grant from United Technologies Corporation to the National Geographic Society.
Read more from the Urban Expeditions series.