By 2100, the US could be scattered with thousands of ghost towns. That’s according to new research by the University of Illinois that’s suggested almost half of the nearly 30,000 cities in the US will face depopulation by the end of this century.
These impacted cities are estimated to experience depopulation of 12 to 23 percent, a radical demographic change that would likely cause all kinds of disruptions to basic services, including transportation, clean water, electricity, and internet access.
“The projections suggest that, by 2100, all states will have cities facing some type of depopulation, except the District of Columbia and Hawaii,” the study authors write.
However, they added that the situation will vary across the country from region to region. The results show that 43 percent of US cities are losing population, while 40 percent are gaining population and the remaining 17 percent show fluctuating trends.
“The number of depopulating cities in the Northeast and Midwest will be higher than in the South and West regions (although many cities in the North and Midwest will still grow). In California, the southern coast may lose population, while the northern coast may gain population. Although they are growing substantially as of this writing, Texas and Utah will also see a fair share of their cities going through population loss,” they added.
To reach these findings, the team looked at data collected from 2000 to 2020 by the US Census and the American Community Survey. Using five possible future climate scenarios, known as the shared socioeconomic pathways, they used mathematical models to forecast changes in urban populations.
Speaking to Scientific American, lead study author Uttara Sutradhar explained that several different variables will drive the trends they identified, including rising property prices, industrial decline, lower birth rates, different levels of state taxes, and the impacts of climate change.
To face this problem, the researchers believe that the US needs to have a radical paradigm shift away from growth-based planning and, instead, start embracing the principles of adaptability, modularity, and multifunctionality.
More broadly speaking, it’s become well-established that the global population will decline by the end of the 21st century. A study in 2020 concluded that the population of the world will peak in 2064 at around 9.7 billion people, before falling to 8.8 billion by 2100. Another (more pessimistic) report argued that the global population will peak at 8.6 billion in 2050 and then decline to just 7 billion by 2100.
The new study is published in the journal Nature Cities.