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Is there a US population max?

pete-rock

Cyburbian
Messages
1,551
Points
24
I've pretty much come to the conclusion that sprawl development will continue and more dense development will be sneered upon in the US until there is simply no more new land (greenfields) to build on. But if that is true, that begs the question: Is there a population limit which, using current development patterns, we cannot exceed in the US?

Assuming, for example, that sprawl development continues to advance as it has for the last 50-60 years, American household preferences remain pretty consistent, we maintain just enough agricultural land to feed all US citizens, and we preserve only the most precious of our natural areas, can we put a number on the maximum population of the nation?

I'm taking a wild guess here, but I'm thinking it's somewhere between 600 million and 800 million (we're just under 290 million right now). Some states (California? Florida?) are probably closer to reaching that limit because mountains, deserts, wetlands, etc. prevent further development. And those states become the hotbeds of anti-sprawl discussion. Other states (Illinois? Ohio? Texas? Georgia? North Carolina?) have plenty of land available to accomodate even more sprawl. And talk there of more dense development becomes evidence of a liberal conspiracy.

If the 600-800 million figure is in the ballpark, then we likely have at least 50 more years before we approach it.

So are we planners way ahead of the curve in promoting smart growth policies that politicians and the general public can't see the benefits of? And is there a population limit at which people say, "we've got to build better communities than this?"
 
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5,353
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31
Are you suggesting that there may come a time when the U.S. will have to regulate its population in the same way that China does?
 

Chet

Cyburbian Emeritus
Messages
10,624
Points
34
Interesting Thread

With your assumptions of development form and tolerance, you may be right in your estimates, but I think the actual population max. exceeds 3 Billion, at a much reduced quality of life.
 

pete-rock

Cyburbian
Messages
1,551
Points
24
No way!

Planderella said:
Are you suggesting that there may come a time when the U.S. will have to regulate its population in the same way that China does?
Not at all. I'm suggesting that growth management won't be taken seriously until there's some unforseen growth limit that we might reach.

As long as there's space, somebody will build and live in a McMansion on two acres. We know that the kind of development that supports McMansions chomps up land at a huge rate. But buildable space is finite and at some point all buildable space will be used.

Most builders of McMansions, I believe, won't see the benefits of growth management until they can build no more. I'm wondering if there is a tipping point at which being a proponent of more dense development becomes a "duh".
 

Chet

Cyburbian Emeritus
Messages
10,624
Points
34
Heck, I'm waiting for the 'Boomers go and die off so the supply exceeds demand and we can pick those McMansions up for pennies on the dollar. Around here, the Mc's are being built on the same 1/4 acre lots as other 'traditional' suburban developments, so not a lot of land gobbling going on.
 

pete-rock

Cyburbian
Messages
1,551
Points
24
bturk said:
Heck, I'm waiting for the 'Boomers go and die off so the supply exceeds demand and we can pick those McMansions up for pennies on the dollar. Around here, the Mc's are being built on the same 1/4 acre lots as other 'traditional' suburban developments, so not a lot of land gobbling going on.
I kinda like that idea, too. But I still think Gen Xers or Baby Busters or whatever will still express a preference for new development, and continue to push the urban limit further out. BTW, that kind of real estate bust cannot be good for the economy.
 

pete-rock

Cyburbian
Messages
1,551
Points
24
Re: Interesting Thread

bturk said:
With your assumptions of development form and tolerance, you may be right in your estimates, but I think the actual population max. exceeds 3 Billion, at a much reduced quality of life.
I guess I'm wondering what the population limit will be given current patterns -- and prior to any reduction in the quality of life.

Am I alone here in thinking that there's little planners can do to have a real impact on growth management until the US is completely built out?

My guess is it'll happen state by state. California becomes built out, the prestige of planners there rises exponentially. New Jersey becomes built out, and policymakers are seeking out the advice of planners.
 

el Guapo

Capitalist
Messages
5,984
Points
29
Color me a Malthusian

Apu of Simpson's fame was once heard to exclaim "I cannot believe that you are not made nervious by your country’s severe under population problem" or something to that extent.

It's all in your perspective. But I believe Malthus will be proven right eventually. Too many mouths.

I took Population Geography with Dr. Steven Wright of KSU fame and he would be ashamed of me now for believing in a population carrying capacity.

Suggested reading "All the Trouble in the World" by PJ O'Rourke. He has an interesting take.
 

pete-rock

Cyburbian
Messages
1,551
Points
24
Re: Color me a Malthusian

El Guapo said:
I took Population Geography with Dr. Steven Wright of KSU fame and he would be ashamed of me now for believing in a population carrying capacity.
I just can't help but envision a future, say 50-60 years from now, where the US population is approaching 500 million. The nation can accomodate that many people, but at what cost to everyone's quality of life?

We're just now at the cusp of seeing that sprawl development has an impact on quality of life, but there is a significant portion of the population (a majority?) that believes no one ought to infringe on their ability to consume land and resources.

Hell, maybe what we need is a good old-fashioned natural disaster to wipe out a good 10-20% of the population and preserve the quality of life for the rest of us. ; )
 

giff57

Corn Burning Fool
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
5,402
Points
32
I'm guessing that if you took immigration out of the equation, that the US population would fall as the boomers die off. Considering that most immigrants won't build Mc Mansions, I don't think that your predictions will happen. I suppose one could check my theory with census data, by using familiy size by ethnicity, to appoximate the birth rate of non-immigrants. I'm too busy to do that today, maybe later.
 

gkmo62u

Cyburbian
Messages
1,046
Points
24
Very interesting, thanks pete-rock for bringing it up.

We all like to prognosticate, but there are so many variables to consider, such as infill and redevelopment patterns and perhaps most important as mentioned by giff57:

Immigration Policy. If I see anything happening over the short term--50 years is the potential for Major Policy Change regarding immigration.

I have no feel for "carrying capacity" No one does. There is no way to factor in technology, living patterns, and other things.

Remember, I think the definition of quality of life is different for everyone. Therefore any changes to said definition will be looked at by people in different ways.
 
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3,690
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bturk said:
Around here, the Mc's are being built on the same 1/4 acre lots as other 'traditional' suburban developments, so not a lot of land gobbling going on.
Here too... our town is to the point where all the good land has been developed and we're starting to dip into developing the marginal land, which is driving a trend in applications for cluster developments.
 

Lee Nellis

Cyburbian
Messages
1,371
Points
29
I tend to think that Malthus was just way ahead of his time … We are so far beyond a sustainable population (maybe 75 million in all of North America? maybe less? world population consistent with that) that I have given up speculating about how people will respond to future stresses. What I see on a small scale is an attractive community - more people move in - the character is lost - "refugees" move on. The valley we live in is full of refugees. BUT, people are still moving (in large numbers) to the places we are all fled, national magazines are listing the places we fled as among America's most desirable, etc. What I think this shows is that there is an almost endless reservoir of people who will tolerate almost any conditions, if they think those conditions are a bit better than what they endured before. This makes me pessimistic about people in general ever recognizing a limit.
 

gkmo62u

Cyburbian
Messages
1,046
Points
24
I am not trying to be a pain in the ass but could you quantify what you mean when you say:

"We are so far beyond a sustainable population (maybe 75 million in all of North America...")

What does that mean? How might you suggest getting back to that point?

How would you have suggested stopping at that point?

Seems silly to me?
 

giff57

Corn Burning Fool
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
5,402
Points
32
I was a little off in my theory. Between 1990 and 2000 the US population grew by about 32.7 million of those 13.2 million are reported foreign born arriving between 90 and 2000. Of course those numbers do not include those born to those foreign born immigrants. Even so, immigration is a big portion of our population increase.

Of course we still have not reached the point of the big boomer die off, my theory could prove correct by then.
 

Terraplan

Cyburbian
Messages
23
Points
2
There is a very good book that addresses this issue as follows: -

Wackernagel, M & Rees, W.E. 1996 Our Ecological Footprint New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island.

It looks at the human footprint the earth is able to sustain - including comparisons between developed and less developed countries (or whatever the latest PC term is for them).
 

Lee Nellis

Cyburbian
Messages
1,371
Points
29
75 million is a guess-timate. And like any other such suggestion, it is based on certain values. A lot of discussion with diverse other folks suggests to me that at about that population, you could support the necessary amenities (live theatre, ballet, cold beer in the summer), while maintaining large blocks of wilderness without extreme conflict; have a far better chance of representative democracy actually working because so many more people would actually know their state legislators and congress persons, etc; have far less formal social control (the planners reading this should be well aware of how hard and artificial it is to try to ensure ethical, neighborly behavior with formal rules -- and I am not arguing against the rules, we need them at this point in time, but we should all realize the ultimate futility of formal rules where there is no sense of community that makes compliance the natural thing); and have the opportunity for far more self-reliance and less dependence on large corporate institutions. At this population, or perhaps a few more, everyone who did not choose to live in the dense urban centers (the population does have to be large enough to support a few real cities) could see the night sky as it is supposed to be. As for returning to this number -- or making any other limit one chooses stick -- it is both impossible and wrong to do it by compulsion. It has to be an ethical choice made by the largest part of society. OR, it has to be a consequence of catastrophe. And while I cheerfully admit that "the system" has incredible resilience (or at least inertia), we do have the social-political-ethical institutions to sustain the current world population for long. Wouldn't it be nice, if we acknowledged that and made the necessary changes by free choice?
 

pete-rock

Cyburbian
Messages
1,551
Points
24
What are the planning implications?

I wonder what the planning implications of population growth will be.

If and when the population reaches 500-600 million, and the expansion of "middle-class" lifestyles (however defined) becomes more threatened, do planners assume a more prominent role in municipalities?

Is that when the general public heeds the call for more housing choice and, ultimately, greater density? Or more viable and accessible public transportation? Or preservation of natural resources?

I just believe most Americans will not confront these issues until they try to move somewhere and realize they can't. And they'll look to those who can explain how they can.
 

adaptor

Member
Messages
123
Points
6
apples and oranges

I think there are two different issues here -- population and consumption. Granted, that's where the notion of a carrying capacity comes in, but I don't think the way to estimate maximum population is by looking at current land use.

We can tie up acres per household and travel the distances we do because it's cheap. The same dynamics hold true the world over. Europe didn't start sprawling until recently because for most of the 20th century it was too costly. Californians are moving to Arizona and New Mexico because it's less costly than consuming more resources there. These decisions have less to do with carrying capacity or population limits than they do about behavior.
 

pete-rock

Cyburbian
Messages
1,551
Points
24
Re: apples and oranges

rustbelt said:
I think there are two different issues here -- population and consumption.
We can tie up acres per household and travel the distances we do because it's cheap.
Californians are moving to Arizona and New Mexico because it's less costly than consuming more resources there. These decisions have less to do with carrying capacity or population limits than they do about behavior.
So maybe behavior modifies itself over time? And individual decisions produce the desired results?
 

Lee Nellis

Cyburbian
Messages
1,371
Points
29
Behavior certainly adapts, but individuals' decisions by themselves cannot, by definition, solve the problem. There will always be a point at which individuals have an incentive (and in fact an ever stronger incentive, as resources become more scarce) to behave in a way that is contrary to the larger community's interest. Without a widely shared ethical agreement (and sanctions), individual interests and behavior will diverge and the agreement necessary to solve problems will be harder and harder to obtain. This is already manifest. Look at all the folks hiding in gated communities, the desire to get your kids out of the public schools (even though you know that doing so diminishes the chances of those schools ever working), and the vicious side of the property rights movement.
 

adaptor

Member
Messages
123
Points
6
Re: Re: apples and oranges

pete-rock said:


So maybe behavior modifies itself over time? And individual decisions produce the desired results?
I was thinking more along the lines of land use modifies itself over time. Just as what was once farmland is now shopping malls and subdivisions, there's no saying that all the developed areas will be used the same way in the future.

On the one hand imagine the McMansions being cut up into apartments and rooming houses, the lots split and more housing built. That would support the higher maximum population notion. On the other hand maybe the entire sprawling mess will be unsustainable under different economic circumstances and the land will be returned to past uses. Then if the population is going to go higher it would need to become denser, with NY and LA style densities clustered across the country.

As for individual decisions, they produce results someone desires, but I don't know who. I don't see many altrustic decisions made by developers, or any consideration that there should or could be self-imposed limits on what is available for development.
 

green22

Cyburbian
Messages
101
Points
6
I think that sprawl will be dealt with where it is most problematic. It has already pushed some growth from California to the desert and the mountains. If people are willing to put up with alot to have their large amount of space they will be able to sprawl for a long time. Even with out population growth suburbs are spreading out, living spaces are larger per person, more cars and travel per person, and increased resource usage in general. America puts great emphasis on the rights of individuals over the best interests of the whole. As such, the whole will be considered only when the individual is backed into a corner. The US government does it's part by subsidizing suburban growth, auto use, and zoning for sprawl. Where it becomes painfully obvious to those in California that ugly development, lack of developable land, smog, traffic and the cost of sprawl ruins the quality of life, alternatives will be sought.
In some parts of the country from Kansas to the Dakotas there is negative population growth. Only the US or state government could impose anti sprawl measures in those counties. Poor farming methods, (industrial farming), in the US have already depleted the top fifth of the soil. In the thin soil of the northern plains that's all there was.
 

gkmo62u

Cyburbian
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1,046
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24
geez, these guys don't have an agenda do they?

And I love envirospeak "directly influenced by human agency"

Are you two (bturk and e.g.) trying to rile me up late in the day?
 

Lee Nellis

Cyburbian
Messages
1,371
Points
29
Not sure what the basis for this map is, but as someone who lives in a moderately green area on the edge of a dark green area, I can tell you that this entire landscape is essentially a product of human influence, even the vegetation patterns up in the West Elk Wilderness are clearly traceable to human activities (logging before wilderness designation, grazing, fire suppression, import of weeds by horse packers, etc.). Not all those influences are "bad" as far as we know, but it is delusory to think that any significant part of the planet is not heavily influenced by the human presence.
 

BikePlanIt

Cyburbian
Messages
123
Points
6
I tend to think of a human carrying capacity similar to a traditional ecological perspective: A given species can only thrive where resources are adequate (light, water, nutrition), and disturbance is moderate or light (no clear-cutting, etc.). This ecological niche maxim is described in planning with the words: "health, safety, and welfare" of the public. In other words, planners create ecological niches for humans to eek out a sustainable life.

I predict architects will be better at ensuring we'll have access to light long after the farmers lose access to water.

Land use alone does not totally control water availability. Sustainable use of this commodity will allow a population to slowly grow towards a reasonable capacity. If Las Vegas is a model for the future, there won't be one.
 

Bear Up North

Cyburbian Emeritus
Messages
9,329
Points
31
el Guapo said:
Suggested reading "All the Trouble in the World" by PJ O'Rourke. He has an interesting take.
Everything I have read by P. J. O'Rourke has been interesting and fun. BTW, he is from Toledo.

In a Rolling Stone article a few years ago he made fun of suburban development, focusing on a big development just down the road from my workplace.

Bear
 
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Bear Up North

Cyburbian Emeritus
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9,329
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31
To me the ability (or lack thereof) of technology to improve our world will be the key factor in determining if that magic number is 500,000 million or 3 billion.

Water is essential and was only mentioned by name in one (1) post on this thread (although the term "resources" was thrown into the mix). The water we have is going to have to be cleaned quicker and more efficiently to support those big numbers of thirsty people and thirsty farm land.

The farm land is going to have to be even more productive. Genetics in crops and animals will have to continue to techically move forward.

We all know that something other than the good old Chrysler Hemi 365 C.I. hog will have to be produced.....and it will have to use fuel cells or some such newer technology.

And I will end with a related question: What will be the number of humburgers sold by McDonald's be when our population is 3 billion?

Bear Erlich
 
Messages
185
Points
7
Not to sound too terribly pesimistic but humans will have to adapt to what-ever mess of an environment they have created for themselves (think mutants) or, they will kill each other off.... Soilent Green... :cool:
 

jresta

Cyburbian
Messages
1,474
Points
23
Anyone ever read 'Ishmael'?

" 'Man's destiny was to conquer and rule the world, and this is what he's done--almost. He hasn't quite made it, and it looks as though this may be his undoing. The problem is that man's conquest of the world has itself devastated the world. And in spite of all the mastery we've attained, we don't have enough mastery to stop devastating the world--or to repair the devastation we've already wrought. We've poured our poisons into the world as though it were a bottomless pit--and we go on gobbling them up. It's hard to imaging how the world could survive another century of this abuse, but nobody's really doing anything about it. It's a problem our children will have to solve, or their children.

" 'Only one thing can save us. We have to increase our mastery of the world. All this damage has come about through our conquest of the world, but we have to go on conquering it until our rule is absolute. Then, when we're in complete control, everything will be fine. We'll have fusion power. No pollution. We'll turn the rain on and off. We'll grow a bushel of wheat in a square centimeter. We'll turn the oceans into farms. We'll control the weather--no more hurricanes, no more tornadoes, no more droughts, no more untimely frosts. We'll make the clouds release their water over the land instead of dumping it uselessly into the oceans. All the life processes of this planet will be where they belong-- where the gods meant them to be--in our hands. And we'll manipulate them the way a programmer manipulates a computer.

please note the dripping sarcasm in the second paragraph
 

LPA

Member
Messages
22
Points
2
guesstimations of ecological footprints aside, my personal pet theory is that the human bein' was made to stalk huge amounts of territory. It's that old impulse to explore and innovate. We can't truly live stacked on shelves*, we need to mark new territory and make something out of it. That's why we'll eventually spread throughout the solar system and then the galaxy, even if there are never more of us than could be housed (at whatever standard of living) on the earth.

* this isn't to imply that everyone should try to stake out a country ranch, just that I think most of us are meant for more meaningful things than flitting around from one hip downtown club to the next (fun as that might be).
 

BKM

Cyburbian
Messages
6,464
Points
29
LPA said:
guesstimations of ecological footprints aside, my personal pet theory is that the human bein' was made to stalk huge amounts of territory. It's that old impulse to explore and innovate. We can't truly live stacked on shelves*, we need to mark new territory and make something out of it. That's why we'll eventually spread throughout the solar system and then the galaxy, even if there are never more of us than could be housed (at whatever standard of living) on the earth.

* this isn't to imply that everyone should try to stake out a country ranch, just that I think most of us are meant for more meaningful things than flitting around from one hip downtown club to the next (fun as that might be).
All this is well and good, but what does this MEAN for an urban/suburban population approaching 400 million within 25 years? We can't all be Ted Nugent. Most of us are so distant from our "biological imperative" that we don't want to be hunters and gatherers, anyway.

As for the downtown club comment, I would note that flitting around from downtown club to club (which I do not do by any means. Heck, I didn't when I was 20, let alone now) is "closer" to the hunting heritage than buying a fake country-themed ranch house hacked out of a dead farm field and leaving the television only to attend neighborhood meetings to complain about multifamily housing and brown people.
 
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