Teeming with humanity, the world’s biggest cities already swell at the seams, and there’s no telling how big they’ll grow during the next century. Or is there?

Breakthrough research on that very point, by Stephen Sheppard and his Williams College colleagues, was presented at the Bellagio conference. Using Landsat satellite images of a sampling of 120 world cities — one set taken around 1990, another around 2000 — they were able to show global cities’ dynamic form of growth — how much they move to the urban periphery (“outspill”), or find space inside (“infill”).

According to Sheppard, quoted in the Seattle Times, cities on average outspill seven times as fast as they inspill, which means a place like Shanghai will have to grow by 14 square miles each year according to current trends. If this new growth isn’t planned, well, watch out.

Good planning, for example, can recycle underused urban land, or schedule better use of expansion areas, to achieve much greater people-carrying capacity. Good planning can avoid some of the worst modern traffic jams, put public transit first, make walking and biking conven-ient, and preserve pockets of green space critical to humans’ physical and emotional health. … Sheppard sees a frightening tide of population growth enveloping cities. He urges they take their thousands of planning documents, too often focused on some ideal future, and update them to reflect realistic growth scenarios.

In similarly cheery news, Sheppard’s Economics Department colleague Jerry Caprio explains in the latest Miliken Institute Review just why China’s immature financial system is the Achilles’ heel of the post-communist economic miracle. Well, let’s just hope nobody shoots at it, then.

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