Architecture and design that can promise progress to the planet can also hasten abuse of the natural environment.

In the face of progress our global condition is not as happy as it should be. Over two billion people on our planet currently live without the luxury of electricity and are often without the necessity of safe drinking water. On the other hand, hundreds of millions of people live in mansions by comparison and an extraordinary number of these are in the “super-rich” class. The populations of the world are more stratified between the haves and the have-nots than at any previous time in history.

Architecture and design that can promise progress to the planet can also hasten abuse of the natural environment. Change, even progress, does not automatically imply forward motion for all. There are problems with progress.

The internet has brought cheap and easy messaging, the progressive sharing of information. It has also brought spam. New tools and better machines often displace workers. More and better food has increased obesity and arteriolosclerosis. Our superhighways have hastened a decline of local communities. Increased comfort has created apathy. Digital solutions have made identity fraud ubiquitous.

Despite progress being made in the world’s economy and despite the arguments that good design can solve the worlds problems we have also come to understand there are many millions of people who feel and actually live poorer now than ever before. Poverty today is increasingly unhealthy, due in much part to increased urbanization and environmental abuses; the poor in urban and rural settings no longer have the natural resources to fend for themselves – there is no hunting and gathering in Central Park. Relative poverty has psychological bearing on every person in every culture on the planet.

We not only live on a more crowded world but the inhabitants are becoming older too. In the next generational period, and for the first time ever, the number of centenarians alive in developed countries will reach into the millions. Some will likely live beyond 120 years old. But even longevity has a serious downside, as increasing disabilities develop with advanced age.

Evidence of the downside of progress is often never seen, as non-renewable resources and habitat are increasingly consumed in its wake; the environment now is in a desperate state. Well-off people today pay to purify their water and have their air cleaned and conditioned.

Here’s a sobering thought: It is the readers of DesignIntelligence, the leaders of the most significant design firms in the world, who are the shapers of our future. You, along with politicians and visionary leaders in each profession create scenarios that will determine where we may be in the future. If we keep going the way we are now, our design professions will have failed. But we have also come to understand that trends are not drivers of destiny. Trends can be reversed. They can change. Environmental degradation is not an irrefutable fact of modern life.

This issue of DesignIntelligence focuses on the leading US based multi-national design firms. So much of our planets improved condition – and hope for the future – depends upon them.