America the Beautiful. But a Little Less Spacious...

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If you think gridlock is bad these days, just wait another hundred years. According to a report published Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau, the country's population will double in the next century — an explosion that will mean 571 million fellow Americans by the year 2100. And while images of almost inconceivably crowded streets, highways and movie theaters are dancing in every pessimist's head, one of the study's authors contends that the future may not, in fact, be quite so dire, thanks to the sheer size of the United States. "Even though we're growing, we won't experience the density issues facing other countries like the U.K. and Germany," says Tamany Mulder, who coauthored the report with Fred Hollmann.

But while the vastness of the country's fruited plains may help America escape some of the problems faced by its elbow-bumping European counterparts, the recent population predictors shouldn't be ignored. "We'll face enormous environmental and economic challenges as our population expands," says Mulder. "The strain on Social Security and natural resources will be undeniable." And this means governmental agencies should start taking stock now, with an eye on the insurgent demands, to ensure a livable, if more crowded, future for everyone. In Europe, forward-thinking land management policies have largely halted the all-American specter of sprawl, which, if it continues at current levels, threatens to gobble up many acres of farmland and areas of natural beauty. Even at the risk of forcing people to drive another 15 minutes to find the nearest Wal-Mart, it could be worth it.