A few weeks ago, the Urban Land Institute hosted part two of their thought-provoking six-part series The City in 2050: Creating Blueprints for Change.
This time around, the initiative – under the heading Who’s Coming to the Party? – focused specifically on the issue of demographics as it relates to the real estate and community development sector.
It was an impressive discussion – one that was especially interesting for me as this time around I was asked to be on the panel alongside Glenn Miller, Vice President of Education and Research at the Canadian Urban Institute and the founding editor of the Ontario Planning Journal, and Alan Boniface, architect for numerous LEED rated buildings and past chair of the Vancouver Planning Commission.
Here’s what we came up with.
We all agreed we’d be dealing with a much older and larger population by 2050. In 2050, 27 per cent of our population will be over 65 and 1.3 million residents will be over 85. As a result, there will be fewer babies and fewer first-time buyers. It was also agreed that we can expect a rapid rate of urbanization. In 2050, more than 70 per cent of the world’s population will be living in cities. Add to this the fact that our population, especially in B.C., will be much more multi-cultural; we will see an influx of immigrants from Asian countries in particular. So, how do we approach these changes?
Glenn Miller presented a model of milestones, inspirations and aspirations. Most notably, he pointed to a dramatic shift in the dependency ratio: the number of people contributing to the tax base vs. the number of people relying on governments to help them financially. Currently, we sit at 5 to1 (five working for every one dependent) but in 2050, we will be looking at a ratio of 2 to 1. Scary thought, and one that we cannot forget as we plan for the future.
Alan talked about building places that thrive and survive through time, both economically and environmentally, which means moving away from the old model of form →place → people to a new model of people → place → form. He pointed to a new model for sustainable urban development, which he referred to as an Urban Magnet. The core of this philosophy is planning developments based on people, not buildings. A great Urban Magnet must include elements of retail, production, education, events programming and urban design/character that relates to the place in order to be sustainable.
For my part, I felt it was important to define this older larger demographic group, which we are all planning for in 2050, so I took the liberty of creating a new term, MAUROS: Multi-Ethnic Active Urban Retired Older Strangers. We want to be proactive about the changes that will be happening in terms of population growth and funding, but we also want to build communities that this new group will want to live in.
I predict MAUROS will:
1) be looking for real ways to connect, naturally embedded in their lives.
2) redefine assisted living and aging. MAUROS will want to age with dignity and grace and be less reliant on their families to look after them.
3) want large urban homes. There will be a demand for generous urban space. The stats around this prediction are argumentative: some sources think we will all just settle for smaller urban spaces. I’m thinking that might look nice on paper, but at least some of us are going to want a place that can handle our sofas and art collections. Jury is out for me on this one.
4) want to have a defined cultural identity. A blended multi-culture may equal a new culture, but it still needs to be defined.
So what does this all mean? To be honest, I’m not sure. A lot of impressive discussions took place here, but there is still a lot of talking that needs to be done. I would suggest that there is only one thing we can really be certain about, and that’s a simple mantra that I believe all my clients should live by: Make their lives better, and they will reward you. Regardless of the communities or the buildings being developed the end result is the same – everybody wants to live better. We need to make sure we are building places that make that dream a reality.