Where are the best places for the next billion people? Think globally, plan regionally

Richard T.T. Forman, Jianguo Jingle Wu

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

4 Scopus citations


Major population growth projected through 2050 and beyond, especially in Africa and Asia, promises serious effects on land and water. Considering the least problematic, or best, areas for near-term growth seems a logical priority. Our analyses suggest answers at both global and urban region scales. In each case, the widely expected and the proposed best areas for growth differ markedly, with challenging implications for the land and society. We conclude with an array of suggested solutions at the urban region scale suitable for urban and regional planning. Based on environmental constraints (especially water stress; and including biodiversity hotspots) plus existing population density, the best places for major human population growth at the global scale seem to be: large areas of South America; across central and eastern Northern America; scattered areas of Oceania; Asia north of the Himalayas and in a central east–west strip; and south-central Africa. This pattern sharply contrasts with population growth projected to occur overwhelming in Asia and Africa. Consequently, global/regional scale migration from high-growth-rate areas toward more suitable freshwater and other resource areas is likely to continue, and increase. Evaluating places in urban regions for major growth is mainly based on expected degradation or loss of food-producing land and natural land. Today’s outer suburbs, exurban sprawl areas, satellite cities, and towns/villages in farmland seem best suited for adding the next billion people. This conclusion differs from expectations of major population growth mainly in cities. Thus, since global-scale land planning and human migration regulation currently seem impractical, urban region–scale planning and implementable solutions seem urgent. Unplanned urbanization, notably its sequential spatial arrangement, has major impacts on food-producing areas, natural land, and built areas. A wide range of actions to improve, or minimize negative effects on, areas for food, nature and community are outlined. No single overarching solution emerges. Yet many individual solutions address a number of problems. Therefore a package of specific solutions, most strongly spatial and each addressing two or more issues, seems promising to mold a better land ahead. With the human ecological footprint apparently exceeding the earth’s biocapacity, unless the land worldwide is effectively improved, another billion people is a bad omen.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationHandbook on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services in Impact Assessment
PublisherEdward Elgar Publishing Ltd.
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)9781783478996
ISBN (Print)9781783478989
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General Environmental Science


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