Thursday, 3 November 2011

Population Growth - a Problem of Scales


Population Growth - a Problem of Scales

The end of October has according to the UN office for statistics officially marked the population growth reached 7billion. This is seven billion individuals living on planet earth, an astonishing number. On October 31st the 7th billion child was born.

Astonishing it is in regards to the unprecedented growth during only the past 200 years. Back in 1927 the world population was recorded as only 2 billion and in 1804 it was just 1 billion. 

UN 2004 projections
Image taken from Wikipedia / World population from 1800 to 2100, based on UN 2004 projections and US Census Bureau historical estimates.

The number however, is only calculated, an estimate at best. The UN statistics office specifies the error margin at 1%. Translated to the time window the 7th billion individual will be born, this margin is 12 month. This is six month before or after the end of October.

This margin might be quite good in relation to the 200,000 years modern humans already inhabit planet earth. Even across the past 100 years, since the beginning of the dramatic population growth, this might seem like a acceptable margin. 

To make the story easier accessible to the general public the UN chooses to award the title of the 7th billion inhabitant to an individual, personalising the message. This has been the practice for the past 3 instances where the population crossed the billion mark. 

The UN officially choose a baby girl named Danica Camacho born in the Philippines as the 7 billionth inhabitant. Previous title holders are 12-year-old Adnan Nevic of Bosnia Herzogovina born in 1999 and Matej Gaspar from Croatia, who was number five billion, born in 1987. It is to a large extend of course a political decision. To give the title to a child born in the region of the former Yugoslavia torn apart by war the years before is a clear signal of hope and welcome.

UN 2004 projections
Image by Elvis Barukcic/AFP taken form the Guardian / Adnan Nevic in Visoko.

On this personal level the decision of course touches a very different scale. For the individual the error margin of 12 month makes a dramatic difference. A year holds so much for a pre born and newborn. Also for the rest of us, actually 6'999'9999 live can change in this time drama dramatically. This makes it difficult to relate to the error time frame. 

The understanding for global management of challenges has increased dramatically over the past decade. From a very local management a sense of global awareness has entered the current debate. As an example, last weeks multi billion financial support deal reached between the members of the European Union to help other members has been supported by countries from around the world, including China. 

This globalisation has developed very early related to economical activities, but has with the more recent sustainability discussion, the image from the moon and Buckminster Fuller, developed into a new paradigm for evaluation and decision making. Complexity has risen sharply of course and it has of been fuelled by the development and application of relevant technology.



This tie between global and local has especially for the cities become an essential aspect of management. The growth of urban population has since 2007  overtaken the countryside. In this sense the population growth is specifically relevant for the management, building and thinking of cities. 

The discrepancy between the scales from global to local more and more are become an lock in problem. The relevance  and presence of mobility between the scales is essential for the dynamic development of cities and the wider the gap the more difficult it becomes for elements to link in on any of the scales.

After all scales are an theoretical classification to grasp the complexity of cities. Many of the elements however, represent relevance on a number of different levels acting as links and at the same time can be a source of contradiction. 

Just as the individual child represents a successful new start for a family or a community even, it is stylised as an icon of the world population representing all and everyone. Where the individual destiny and everyday struggle stand against the permanence and duration of the race as such the scales are not relevant any longer. And this might be after all, a model for  dynamic conceptualisation of a scale independent description of presence also in the context of cities.  

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