On the way to the next 100 million

Published on October 18th, 2012

The Next 100 Million by Arthur C. Nelson and Robert E. Lang in the January 2007 issue of Planning (a publication of the American Planning Association) assessed the 2006 state of the rising US population, its effects on housing and offered possible solutions.

Population growth

Nelson and Lange noted that, “ it took the US until 1915 to reach the first 100 million, 53 years to reach 200 million, 39 years to reach 300 million” and in 2012 the population is approaching 315 million. The saving, but not so saving grace, is the recent downturn in the economy. As the economy falters, the birth rates decline.

Housing impact

From 1996 to 2006, two-thirds of the housing built consisted of single-family detached units. However, with Americans living longer, less of their adulthood is spent raising children. This change in demographic, lifestyle and lifespan will bring a change in housing needs. It is predicted that there will be more single-person households. In 2006, 35% of households had children; in 2010, that number decreased to 33%. Of those households with children, the parents will eventually become empty-nesters. An increase in single-person households along with empty-nesters and longer life spans means a change in the types of housing needed.

The move from suburban single family detached housing to urban and higher density units is taking place. According to the Census Bureau, in 2000, 17% of the total housing units contained 5 or more individual units. In 2009, that number increased to 19%. The aging baby boomer generation is also moving into more communal type living quarters such as senior living high rises and assisted living facilities.

Planning & zoning

Counties and municipalities have entire departments that issue guidelines as to how and what to build within the borders. Planning departments determine the long-range planning needs for the area. Zoning departments work with residents, businesses and developers on a case-by-case basis to help them understand what is allowed and disallowed. Parcels within the borders are allocated for residential, commercial or industrial uses. The petitioner usually appears before the governing bodies of the area and must get approval for any changes to a specific piece of land or building that is impacted.

Nelson and Lang suggest that due to the impending population increases that the planning and zoning must balance the need to “protect established neighborhoods, fulfill commercial development needs and sustain the local economic and fiscal base.”

Now what?

We are aware that overpopulation will impact the environment, natural resources and our current lifestyle. As the population increases, we may be forced into more communal and denser living arrangements; more people in smaller spaces. We must also educate ourselves at the local level about planning and zoning laws where we live. If you live in a sparsely-populated area and prefer those living arrangements, speak to your local commissioners and councilpeople during public meetings. Impress upon them the importance of maintaining your neighborhood. There is power in numbers. Coordinate with your neighbors and homeowners associations and request that they support your cause. Ask your local representatives how they plan to balance the increasing population with the need to maintain the community”s current lifestyle.


U.S. & World Population Clocks: https://www.census.gov/popclock/

Households and Families: 2010 (2010 Census Brief): http://www.census.gov/prod/cen2010/briefs/c2010br-14.pdf

Fact Sheet: The Decline in U.S. Fertility: http://www.prb.org/Publications/Datasheets/2012/world-population-data-sheet/fact-sheet-us-population.aspx

Historical Census of Housing Tables: http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/housing/census/historic/units.html

Navigation Guide to Census.gov: Click Here

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