Hello, I am the armchair geographer and welcome to this week’s blog on integrated regional planning and population.

In this blog, we will be looking at the tools that are available to geographers to investigate demographics.

There are essentially two ways that the national economy can change, population change and innovation. So let’s review demography and the role that it plays in the well-being of our country and then the role of innovation in the next episode.

The population debate can be quite contentious with people arguing that we should have a larger population, a smaller population, or a sustainable population.

The fundamentals are; age profile, education, attitudes, mobility, and location.

And then we can move on to looking at work profiles, household profiles and what implications do these have for housing, employment, provision of services and government infrastructure?


When we think about the population regarding capacity, there are two ways of looking at it.

The first is the capacity of a nation to carry a particular population size. By this we might mean, what are the national resources; water, food growing capacity, land capacity and impacts on our existing urban infrastructure. And what capacity is there to source resources from other parts of the world?

The second way of looking at capacity is to look at the ability of the population to sustain itself. Issues that might arise in this regard include; how well educated is the population and what access do they have to work, how old, or young is the population and what are the spread of ages. Is the population concentrated or is it dispersed and is the concentration or dispersion appropriate for our needs?

  • Does the population have access to resources and work?
  • What are the natural attributes or characteristics of the population?
  • Is the population mobile?
  • Where is the population located?
  • What are the current work profiles, household profiles?
  • What is likely to change?

Carrying capacity


Addressing the question of carrying capacity is a tough task. One approach often comes from people with a Malthusian or environmental doctrine.


First articulated by Garett Hardin in 1968 in a book called “The Tragedy of the Commons”, Hardin asks us to imagine a mediaeval village pasture that is owned ‘in common’ by everybody.


He postulates that each villager will try to keep as many cattle in the common as possible. Each villager will recognise that if they add a cow to the pasture, they will receive a personal benefit. They also realise that with is overgrazing, the effects of degradation will be shared equally among the villagers.


Consequently, each villager will attempt to maximise the number of cattle they can graze on the pasture. Eventually, the pressure from overgrazing will destroy the land.


The Tragedy of the Commons is a metaphor for the world’s environmental problems and has become the philosophical basis for much of the environmental argument for population control.


The heritage of this idea can be traced back to Malthus and in recent times has been developed into the concept of a global footprint. This concept maintains that each person draws resources from around the globe for their needs and wants. The capacity of an individual to draw down global resources is dependent on their wealth. Wealthier people use more resources and have greater purchasing power.


Population capacity


The communities capacity to work and create employment depends on inherent characteristics.


  • How well educated is the population and is the education appropriate for the type of work that is available.
  • What is the age profile of the population? Is it young, is the working population large enough to sustain sectors of the population that may be dependent on them? Is the population older, or likely to become older and consequently more dependent upon assistance, less likely to want to work and in need of health care services? Some older populations are capable of continuing work in locations that have appropriate work available. Some older populations that are well educated can maintain longer employment lives.
  • Location Where does the core population live compared to work? Is the population dispersed or concentrated? If the population is scattered, and older, will they be able to access work as they age? Is it possible that the population has located some distance from new employment opportunities creating a fly in fly out scenario?
  • Move to the city. Population change across some cities is characterised by large proportions of the population centralising on mixed use localities that have a diverse range of residential, work and recreational opportunities. How flexible is the city planning system in providing for these changes?
  • Access to resources, work and wealth. Does the population have reasonable access to resources, these might include social and cultural resources as well as physical resources?
  • Attitudes; even in localities that recognise a problem the solution may not be straightforward.
  • Many factors can limit mobility; the ability of the population to move to work. Some members of the population connect to their local area through family associations or cultural norms. Alternatively, other populations are highly mobile or can export large working populations to remote regions.


Also, we are looking to see, what are the regional work profiles, household profiles and recreational profiles? Some residential arrangements involve relatively large house populations while others are much smaller. Wealth, religious and cultural issues and opportunity limit access to work. Family patterns can have an impact on many of the above matters such as mobility, choice of work, uptake of education and desire for change.

So these are the demographic issues that most characterise populations. In the next episode, we will have a look at the role of innovation.


Next Innovation, what does it mean for Regional Planning