Launch Slideshow

America Circa 2030: The Boom To Come

Does the housing downturn have you spooked about future development? Fear not, says urban planning analyst Arthur C. Nelson. There's plenty of space just waiting to be built.

America Circa 2030: The Boom To Come

Does the housing downturn have you spooked about future development? Fear not, says urban planning analyst Arthur C. Nelson. There's plenty of space just waiting to be built.

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    The Big Picture - In 2030, there will be 106.8 billion square feet of new development, about 46 percent more built space than existed in 2000- a remarkable amount of construction to occur within a generation. What is equally important, though, is that 97.3 billion square feet of existing space will need to be replaced. In other words, new and replacementrelated development will amount to 204.1 billion square feet, equal to almost 90 percent of the built space that existed in 2000.

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    At Home, At Work - Between 2000 and 2030, the United States will welcome 82 million new residents. To shelter them, 34 million housing units will need to be constructed, while another 23 million units will need replacement. In addition, nonresidential inventory will grow by 28 billion square feet; 54 billion existing square feet will be rebuilt. This will help accomodate the 60 million full- and part-time jobs that will be created.

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    Growth Ring - Over the next generation, as during the previous one, the increase in population and employment will favor the South and the West. The two regions will acccount for more than 85 percent of the nation’s growth. Yet in urban areas, metropolitan New York will see the most new and replaced nonresidential development. Coming in second and third will be metropolitan Los Angeles and metropolitan Chicago, respectively.

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    Follow the Money - About $30 trillion in total new development (including infrastructure) will occur between 2000 and 2030. The South and West will lead the way with $21 trillion between them. In nonresidential development, the South’s $5.3 trillion will dominate; the West and Midwest will have roughly $3 trillion each, with the Northeast adding $2.7 trillion.

In December 2004, The Brookings Institution published a report by Virginia Tech professor Arthur C. Nelson titled “Toward a New Metropolis: The Opportunity to Rebuild America.” An analysis of what the built environment will be like in 2030, it determined, among other things, that “about half of the buildings in which Americans live, work, and shop will have been built after 2000” and “most of the space built between 2000 and 2030 will be residential space.”

Over the following year, as news about the report got out, its findings were splashed on the front page of USA Today and other national and local papers, parsed by commentators and industry analysts, and touted by various groups in the building community. The report seemed to bolster the idea of a construction boom that would continue unabated.

Then came 2006, and a cooling housing market, and suddenly things didn't seem so promising.

So ARCHITECT invited Nelson to revisit his data and provide a brief, fresh look at the prospects for America's built environment. The future is as bright as ever, he finds—it just doesn't look quite the same as it did two years ago. The next page breaks down how and where the boom will unfold and presents Nelson's thoughts on related trends and developments. --Braulio Agnese

About the Data

The sources for the figures and analysis in this report include the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of Labor, HUD, the Society of Industrial and Office Realtors, and the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. Queries about source data may be addressed to Arthur C. Nelson at acn@vt.edu. Numbers may not add to totals due to rounding.