When thinking about how Australians might be living by the middle of the century, it’s easy to picture scenes of sky homes and robot butlers from The Jetsons.
Flying cars aside, the actual reality of life in 2050 might not be too far from that, with significant technological advancements on the way.
But it’s not just high-tech developments that will govern how we’ll live, with the changing environment, rapid population growth, and shifts in household demographics also playing a big role.
Our population will keep growing, but where will everyone live?
How we’re living in the future depends on who we are and the size of our population, which will continue to grow significantly between now and the mid-century, social researcher Mark McCrindle said.
Moderate estimates from the Australian Bureau of Statistics are for Australia’s population to reach 36 million by 2050 – an increase of at least 10 million.
By the middle of the century, Australia will be a nation of two-speed growth, with some of the smaller regions seeing little change while the cities and many larger regional centers seeing strong growth, Mr McCrindle said.
“In 2050, Sydney and Melbourne will both have exceeded eight million people, while Brisbane will have four million, Perth three million, and Adelaide will be closing in on two million,” he said.
Melbourne and Sydney will each have more than eight million residents by 2050. Picture: Getty
By then, Australia’s top five cities will be home to 70% of the population, or 25 million people, he said.
“Between now and the mid-century, our fastest-growing state will continue to be Queensland, and southeast Queensland will be a metropolis of about five-and-a-half million people.
“We will also see some of what would be smaller towns, such as Toowoomba, Ballarat, Bendigo, Albury-Wodonga, Launceston, and Mackay really grow significantly – and some with growth rates ahead of the capital cities.”
With growth in the regions, there will be greater connectivity around Australia by the middle of the century.
Moving around will be much easier
Mr McCrindle said all levels of government would step-up the rollout of connectivity infrastructure between the regions and the cities.
It will be crucial to open up new areas in order to comfortable house Australia’s growing population by 2050, he said.
“I think we’ll see high speed rail in the years ahead between Sydney and Melbourne at least.
“That will be a game changer. We will have more of these population dots across our map in areas that really haven’t had it in the last century-and-a-half. ”
Living will be more localized, with a reduced reliance on car travel. Picture: Getty
While the population is likely to be more spread out and connections will improve, it is also expected people will become more locally oriented, with walkable communities becoming more widespread.
It’s the idea that where we live, work, shop, play, and socially connect will be a lot more local, with less reliance on cars, which makes sense from a time efficiency perspective as well as an environmental one, Mr McCrindle said.
“This idea of us all living in outer suburbs and crawling into the center every day will fade. We’ll still gather but not every day and gather a lot more locally as well. “
The use of convenient travel options to get people from public transport to their homes will grow. Picture: Getty
With a greater prominence of walkable communities will come a greater reliance on what’s called ‘last mile transportation’ – services like electric bikes and scooters, segways or other types of mobility devices to get between homes and public transport infrastructure.
“I think the next few decades will really bring about some revolutions in the personal transportation area, which won’t mean having a big car, but it will be something smaller to get individuals to more heavy transport hubs,” Mr McCrindle said.
“We won’t just be flying on cars.”
Our homes may change due to population and affordability
While our population will spread more to the regions, our largest capital cities will still house more people than they do now, which means we will see higher densities in inner-city areas, said Cameron Kusher, executive manager of economic research at PropTrack.
“This means more units and townhouses, and houses on smaller lots,” Mr Kusher said.
With the population increase and homeownership continuing to be a key aspiration in Australia, demand for housing will continue to be strong.
As a result, house prices will continue to grow, Mr Kusher said.
Density will have to increase – both to house a growing population and to cater to household demographic changes. Picture: Getty
Mr McCrindle said an increase in density would be necessary due to space constraints as well as affordability, which will still be an issue in 2050.
“Particularly in large cities, apartments, and townhouses will be a key part of the future and a higher proportion of households will live in these housing types because they are more affordable on average than detached houses.”
The way buildings are constructed could also change to improve affordability, as well as to help the environment, with more sustainable and recycled materials used.
With electricity being a big part of cost-of-living pressures, building standards, planning and design will continue to evolve to allow for more passive heating and cooling, he added.
“That’s really started to emerge over the past decade, and it will be mainstream by the middle of this century.”
Sustainability will be an increasingly important focus of the construction sector. Picture: Getty
Nikki Greenberg, founder of Real Estate of the Future, said new technology in the construction sector, including modular buildings, could increase efficiencies and potentially lower the cost of housing in the future.
But she said cities and buildings haven’t changed much for generations, so whether more advanced construction techniques will actually be embraced remains to be seen.
“The last leap was really at the turn of the last century, which was the modern skyscraper, thanks to advancements in concrete and steel construction alongside the invention of the elevator,” she said.
“It means you could start to build up vertically instead of out, so we started having vertical densities rather than urban sprawl.
“If we’re going to have a major change like that in the next 28 years is yet to be seen but hypothetically there might be some advancements in material science that lets us build more effectively or efficiently.
“There might also be some demographic trends where there is greater acceptance of having smaller micro apartments.”
Ms Greenberg added that there would likely be more movement towards a shared economy by the middle of the century, where people will not necessarily own things but instead share resources, including homes.
In line with this, homeownership structures could change over time, with the potential for the tokenization of buildings to continue, she said.
Rather than owning your own home, you might own a share in the building, such as the co-op concept in the United States, or some form of time share.
Home automation is booming – and it’s just going to grow in popularity. Picture: Getty
Technological advancements could change the way we live
Over the past 30 years there have been huge advancements in technology, with similar, if not more advancements to be made over the next 30 years.
They have the potential to dramatically change the way Australians live.
Already we can control lighting, entertainment, and sound in our homes with technology, but our homes will become even smarter, Mr McCrindle said.
Ms Greenberg said technology was going to play a much bigger role in the way we live, with existing technology, including Google Nest and Amazon Echo and Alexa, set to make homes smarter and more predictive.
“With AI (artificial intelligence) we can actually have homes that understand our preferences and predict our needs.”
Homes that are green, efficient, low impact and sustainable will be important. Picture: Getty
This might include making breakfast, changing the lights when residents wake up in tune with circadian rhythms, the fridge automatically ordering things that are out of stock, and predictive home maintenance.
We might also have robots or drones bringing deliveries into our homes, which may affect how floorplans are laid out, with a new consideration for drop-off areas.
Much of this technology already exists but is in its infancy, so the potential for advancements in years to come is huge, Ms Greenberg said.
Mr McCrindle said there will be a greater need for our homes to become smarter as we move towards more multi-generational households due to both an aging population and affordability pressures.
Mr Kusher said household sizes had been decreasing for many years, and it was likely at some point over the next three decades there would be a reversion to larger households.
That could be through governments discovering ways to fund childcare, allowing parents to have more children, or the cost of housing being so unaffordable that adult children end up staying at home for longer, he explained.
Household sizes could increase in the coming years – including through government incentives. Picture: Getty
Our homes will need to become more customizable to accommodate the needs of each generation, he said.
“Older people in our homes will need better lighting, louder sounds, and maybe some voice-controlled mechanisms around them, but younger people in the home will want a different ambience, and our home will adjust to these needs.”
“Spaces that can be adaptable and functional with us as our needs change is going to be key for our future homes as well.”
Technological advancements will also see transport change, with the use of autonomous vehicles, likely powered electrically through clean sources, Ms Greenberg said.
In terms of ‘last mile transportation’, other technologies may be adopted in the future, such as hoverboards, which is yet to be fully approved in Australia, she said.
She added that there may be greater use of drones, including for taxis, cargo, package deliveries, and medical use, and sky ports to support the drones flying through the sky, which was something being considered in the US at least.
“Once we have that high-speed aerial connection we’re starting to talk about scenes like the Jetsons, where you start connecting places more efficiently and effectively.”