Advanced Search

Please click here to take a brief survey

Are you anticipating big changes when you choose where to live?
Alex Steffen, 15 Mar 10

While thinking today about cities, foresight and rugged adaptation to discontinuities, I tweeted a few messages on the subject:

It's a little disturbing how often the answer to why a forecast is modeled a certain way is "that's what we have data for"

What we measure well now is almost certainly not the best way to define the boundaries of the possible, let alone anticipate the unexpected.

When I look ahead I see lots of potentially massive discontinuities. These are poorly built into existing models.

Does anyone know of a city that plans for potential discontinuities, other than short-term emergency planning? Like, in the decades range?

Most city strategic plans I know of take BAU for granted for the next 20-40 years; don't know any that plan meaningfully beyond that.

And, then, having gotten revved up, I finished off that tweet-stream with the thought that

Were I 20, I'd think srsly about 2050 when choosing where to live +look for civic signs of rugged adaptation to discontinuities.

I've already gotten a few dozen really interesting responses through various channels. A couple were from people quite a bit older than me who plan to be around in 2050 and are thinking ahead about what kind of a place they want to be in during their golden years. Most, though, have been from younger folks, and the common theme seems to be that people in their 20s and 30s (or at least the kind who pay attention to what I blather on about) are already thinking seriously about what kind of changes they can expect to live through, and where they might want to live and work in light of those changes.

I find this fascinating. I'd like to hear more. Are you thinking about big, long-term changes when you choose where you want to live? What changes are you thinking about, and what have you been deciding? What makes a good future place, and where would you live if you could live anywhere?

Bookmark and Share


I'm thinking about moving to Vancouver. Almost all of the city is high enough above sea level that there should be limited flooding issues. The city itself seems very progressive and has imposed many ordinances, even requiring green roofs on larger ones. There is limited earthquake risk because the fault is about 50km below the surface.

They have a great urban model including high density, view corridors, and walkable areas. There are parks everywhere. I'll be graduating in just over a month for structural engineering and would LOVE to find a job there. I'd like to be part of urban farming design if at all possible.

Posted by: Aerelonian on 15 Mar 10

If the economy continues to worsen, the possibility of serious unrest increases. Maybe a rural area with cohesive social structure might be a good place. And not just for that. Room to grow and raise your own food. Way cheaper housing and rents.

We're thinking about it.

Posted by: Bob Morris on 15 Mar 10

We live in the Burlington, VT area. With the exception of the winters getting a little long sometimes, it's a great place to live. And we do think about what the world will look like in 50 years. So far we like the direction Vermont is heading - conserving nature, investing in renewables, sustainable agriculture, etc...New Englanders have always been a self-sufficient, adaptable lot.

Thanks for this interesting question...we're interested to hear what others are thinking...

Posted by: winwin apps on 16 Mar 10

It's easy to imagine that climate is the only disruptive risk we need weigh in thinking about future homes (or present homes). Easy but wrong. Very important to consider seismic risk as well, particularly for the many of us who live near plate boundaries (Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, SF, not to mention the entire Pacific Rim, large swaths of continental Asia, etc.) and to understand how cities are attempting (or failing to attempt) to advance resilience against major earth movements. This is quite possibly a much more imminent risk than the larger disruptions linked to climate change -- and not sufficiently high on the green or sustainability agenda anywhere.

Consider this from Roger Bilham's "The Seismic Future of Cities" (Bulletin of Earthquake Engineering, September 2009): "Earth’s tenfold increase in population has occurred during a time that is short compared to the return time of damaging earthquakes. In the next century, therefore, earthquakes that had little impact on villages and towns, will be shaking urban agglomerations housing upwards of 12 million people."

Can we extend Bright Green to include Quake-Safe? We should.

Posted by: Ted Wolf on 16 Mar 10

Note: Bilham's full article "The Seismic Future of Cities" is available as a PDF at SpringerLink:

Posted by: Ted Wolf on 16 Mar 10

My husband and I are most certainly thinking of the 2050 landscape as we plan the next phase in our life. It is hard to find locations that are disaster free. Right now we live in Missouri and dust bowl 2 is not going to be fun.

We have decided to attend grad school at PSU in Portland, OR for any number of green reasons, but it also feels like a safer location than most. I want to buy local produce and not need a car, but I also don't want to run out of water. The source of the Columbia and Willamette rivers is a glacier, and while that too will pass I think it will likely outlast the aquafers that are already nearly depleted in other parts of the country.

I see the value in what Bob says about rural life, but I think well planned urban centers will be necessary to share resources. That said, I do think what we typically consider urban will have to scalled down in size considerably.

Posted by: Lauren on 16 Mar 10

After getting an MSc in Sustainable Energy Engineering from sustainability leader Sweden, I chose to move to Vermont because I'm from New England and the state faces an electricity crisis that I thought would combine with plenty of potential for renewables to make job opportunities. I chose the largest city, Burlington, so I didn't need a car, and picked a place a block from downtown.

Investments in local food, including 700 acres of farmland within a mile of downtown, and energy efficiency are helping. Talk of renewables and transit may help if they turn into action. A bike is rather effective in the valley.

Our water comes from the lake downstream of where our sewage goes in, so we have some confidence in the treatment, and in our supply. We are pushing for each new development to reduce storm water to protect and improve the lake.

Most of the city is heated with natural gas and we are thinking of setting up a district heating system using our wood chip burning power plant. That would improve the efficiency of the plant and the security of our heat. I hope someone is also thinking about biomass based gas to put in the existing gas pipes as fossil based gas runs out in North America and becomes much more expensive when it's compressed and shipped here.

It wasn't part of the decision for me but it's nice to know that at 97 feet, we are safe from the sea, and there is low risk of all the typical disasters.

Financially, I had bet that rising oil prices would kill the economy and sold my investments. I cashed in my IRA and bought a 4-unit house to live in, that will provide income when it's paid off. I'd also like to invest in a hydropower plant for retirement because when I think in that time range (2050-ish) I have no faith in the markets but expect resources like energy, water, food, and shelter to be very valuable.

Posted by: Damon on 16 Mar 10

I'm currently getting a PhD in Michigan, my girlfriend is getting her MD in Wisconsin, both of us grew up in California. We need to live in a large-ish city for job opportunities (University Professor + Doctor). I've been trying to rule out Southern California because of water resources. SF/Bay Area would be nice, but "the big one" is going to hit at some point. Central California or Oregon/Washington are probably the places we're going to head - I'd love to live in Seattle or Portland, but we'll see.

But, yes, expected changes by 2050 weigh pretty heavily in my decision making. If a city wants to encourage people my age to move there, they should showcase how they are set to adapt to long(er)-term disruptions.

Posted by: Ryan on 17 Mar 10

We're trying to decide how bad things will get here in Hawaii. Maybe by 2050 all the beaches tourists flock here for won't exist and our economy will be in ruins.

Posted by: Brian Bell on 17 Mar 10

Those of you heading to the Pacific northwest coast, remember to factor in possible tsunamis:

Posted by: Philip Bogdonoff on 18 Mar 10

Yes, don't live on the beach in the Pacific Northwest... or anywhere else, frankly.

Posted by: Alex Steffen on 18 Mar 10

Is it possible that, on a 10-20 year timescale it's less about choosing the right city, and more about choosing the right location within the city you're already in? I lived in Atlanta for 2+ years with no car, and found it eminently bike-able, because I stayed within the old urban core and 1st ring of 19th-century suburbs.

Looking further out, the two things to consider are water and regional foodshed. Upstate NY looks pretty good on both those counts. But even Gainesville, where I currently reside, has a vibrant local food movement, and we've got all the water we'll ever need, last time I checked.

Posted by: Christopher Mims on 18 Mar 10

Here in southern NJ we got slammed with unusual amounts of snow this winter, and the supermarkets were a melee, shelves were bare. It is crazy to me that most people do not consider their food security in the event of a disaster. A minor disruption was enough to prove that we couldn't sustain ourselves for more than a week without shipments of food. So I'm not terribly surprised that a city's long range plan doesn't go beyond 20 years when in reality it doesn't go beyond a week. The blinders are firmly in place. To answer your question, I am working on making the changes (bike/ped infrastructure, sustainable urban neighborhoods), not looking to relocate to some magical place where other people already have.

Posted by: Stella Bonaparte on 20 Mar 10

I recently moved to Australia from New Zealand. All the draw cards of a big city bought me over - food, culture, big pay checks and not to so much tax. After experiencing the effects of 13 years of drought, and the most deverstating bush fires Australia has ever felt, Im looking forward to returning home, to regular rain fall! 2012 ! Da da da da!

Posted by: Lesley Smith on 27 Mar 10

Post A Comment

Please note that comments will remain open for only 14 days after the article is posted. While previous comments will remain visible, attempts to post new comments after this period will fail. This helps stop comment spam, so your forebearance is appreciated.

The Worldchanging comments are meant to be used for further exploration and evaluation of the ideas covered in our posts. Please note that, while constructive disagreement is fine, insults and abuse are not, and will result in the comment being deleted and a likely ban from commenting. We will also delete at will and without warning comments we believe are designed to disrupt a conversation rather than contribute to it. In short, we'll kill troll posts.

Finally, please note that comments which simply repost copyrighted works or commercial messages will be summarily deleted.

Yes No







MESSAGE (optional):

Search Worldchanging

Worldchanging Newsletter Get good news for a change —
Click here to sign up!


Website Design by Eben Design | Logo Design by Egg Hosting | Hosted by Amazon AWS | Problems with the site? Send email to tech /at/
Architecture for Humanity - all rights reserved except where otherwise indicated.

Find_us_on_facebook_badge.gif twitter-logo.jpg