At a forum that explored the issues surrounding the "Next Billion” people to go online, one of the more interesting presentations entailed building communities for the next billion or so people who are and will be displaced by war or climate change.

Cameron Sinclair, executive director of the Jolie-Pitt Foundation, the charitable humanitarian charity founded by actors Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, said that the world population would continue to grow in the short term, but will eventually level off and decrease in the 2040s and beyond. 

Sinclair, who previously founded the charitable group Architecture for Humanity, gave his presentation entitled “Building Communities for the Next Billion,” at the all-day Next Billion forum in New York City. Presented by digital news service Quartz, it was held Wednesday at the Bohemian National Hall.

Quartz has held similar forums in Seattle and New York and plans another next year in London. The objective is to address the by-products of an increasingly connected world. 

Shifting Populations

Quartz expects global connectivity to profoundly impact society, politics, technology, education, commerce and finance. It uses these conferences to explore this seismic shift and its implications — in how we conduct business and lead our lives.

Sinclair said that architects and engineers are now trying to come to grips with designing homes and cities for the displaced who gather together in large refugee camps or “nomadic cities” as Sinclair describes them. 

“By 2044 and I am sure various PhD’s can argue this for at least three or four years, we are going to hit peak population,” Sinclair said. “And that peak population is about 8.7 billion people and by 2100 we will be going back down to 8 billion. So the next billion (people) that we are talking about are really in the next 30 years and then that’s it and then we are beginning to see a shrinking world.”

He said the major trends being studied by urban planners are the emergence of mega cities worldwide. Sinclair predicts that there will be another 20 cities that will have populations of 19 million or more inhabitants during this century and architects and engineers are trying to find ways to improve slum conditions in these cities. Another urban planning trend is the rise of “shrinking cities” such as Gary Ind. and Detroit, Mich., for example.

“Many people don’t realize that one in two cities in the United States is shrinking,” he said. “We are having this epidemic of dying cities and it is happening because we are having this mobility of humanity that is allowing us to make choices about what cities we live in.”


Impacts of Disaster 

The third major area of exploration for urban planners is the emergency of nomadic cities that are usually created due to natural disaster or human conflict, he said.

During his presentation he showed an aerial of a camp that is now one of the largest cities in Jordan that houses approximately 80,000 refugees, down from a high of 120,000 inhabitants. Sinclair takes umbrage with the term “camp” since these locales are in fact cities and are not places where you send youth off for a few days with a sleeping bag.

The issues of war and climate change have and will continue to lead to population shifts. Sinclair said that 52 million have been displaced so far this year due to three major emergencies. However, he said another 171 million people were affected by conflict so far this year. Sinclair noted the “stateless nation” of displaced people ranks among the 10 ten most populated countries in the world.

Stronger Storms, Rising Seas

In terms of climate change, Sinclair said some experts believe that the impacts of climate change from i.e., stronger storms, desertification or rising sea levels will result in the relocation of anywhere from 50 million to as many as 250 million people in coming years. 

One of the most often-used inventions of late in these nomadic cities is a trolley system that can pick up a tent system and move it to another location in the camp. This is just one of the inventions architects have come up with in what Sinclair called “transient designs” for these nomadic cities. Some of these transient designs have been high-tech, while others have been rather simplistic. Sinclair said a recent invention is deployable bamboo schools that can be erected in two weeks. He also noted that an architectural firm devised a way to build community facilities in refugee camps in less than a week. Another firm has designed a seismically sound bamboo residence that costs less than constructing a United Nations tent. 

Sinclair added that for the past six months he has been working with a team of Syrian architects on a re-deployable building system for Syrian refugees. 

On the low tech-side, he discussed the “Camel Clinic” in rural Africa. Doctors strap medical equipment for the clinic on top of a camel along with a solar unit for the trip to the next village they will visit. The energy produced by the solar unit during the trip supplies power for the medical clinic during its stay in the next village.