Come 2050, according to the UN the world population will be some 9 billions, as opposed to 7 something now. Moreover, while 54% of us now live in urban areas, by 2050 that is projected to rise to 66%. In 1990 there were 10 mega-cities, housing 10 million people or more, and that has now risen to 40. All rather daunting, and somehow we have to provide shelter, food, clothing and jobs for these folks as well as a host of other services.
New York is one of those mega-cities and ranks 9th on the list with over 24 million people in its metropolitan area. Our problem is less acute in the Harlem Valley, but even so the population in Dutchess County is expected to grow from some 294,473 to perhaps 316,091 in 2025, and 326,402 by 2040. The growth in the New York metropolitan area and the attendant demand for products and services will add to the pressures created by growth in our local communities.
In recent times much of this growth generally has followed the line of least resistance, it has largely been dictated by existing infrastructure such as road and rail and the availability of water and sewer. This has resulted in extensive ribbon development and associated sprawl consuming large areas of relatively flat land that may have been previously given over to open space, forestry, or agricultural purposes. Happily, this relentless sprawl has diminished partly due to economic conditions but also as a result of communities becoming aware of the need for “Smart Growth.”
Smart Growth means different things to different folks with differing agendas, but it can serve to direct attention to some broader principles that can inform how we view the whole process of growth. Mother Nature shows us that nothing grows indefinitely, there is a process of germination, followed by growth, then by development, and finally by decay and death. The cycle then begins anew. Some cycles are daily, some annual, and some of much longer duration.
If we take the time to look around we will see these cycles are operating everywhere and at all times – in our daily routine, the annual life of some flora and the longer cycles of fauna.
However, there are other cycles such as the nitrogen, carbon, and hydrological cycles. Their operation is vital to supporting all the other cycles, and the point is that all these activities are interdependent and interrelated. We are supported by and are an integral part of the much larger tapestry of life that is Mother Nature.
If we could come to some understanding of this, it would inform our decisions on land use, what to build and where; the food that we eat, where it was grown and under what conditions; the products that we consume, where and how they were made and how they got recycled.
Whether we appreciate it or not, we are all stewards of our environment. If we fully embraced this role, it would enable us to better plan for the future and ensure that the next generations enjoy no worse a standard of living than we do now. Indeed, it might even enable us to leave the place in better condition than we found it.