The Future: 2058
We used to dream of flying cars and cities on the moon. Now we just dream of a city that lives together, works together, and solves problems together. This is what life might look like for the average Charlottean 45 years from now1
Hover over the image to experience two incarnations of Charlotte -- 2013 and 2058. Click on it to see a larger version.
This piece features notations. Hover over the red numbers to see references and additional information.
You came along at a good time. You were one of about 500 children born at Carolinas Medical Center in September 2013, keeping with the average monthly rate for that year. You were just one of many—the story of your life.
Happy middle age, by the way. You look great for 45. Must be all the walking.
On nice evenings now, sometimes you’ll take the train into uptown with your daughter and look around and tell her how much the place has changed—or hasn’t. About three or four new skyscrapers have risen from Tryon Street in your lifetime 2. But nothing tops the old bank tower at Trade and Tryon. That’s still the tallest building in town, and Charlotteans are proud of it. Inside the main lobby is a portrait of a man named McColl. You learned about him in school, along with names like Gantt and Crutchfield and Foxx. You memorized their names, passed a test, and forgot them. You can look them up anytime you want on any number of digital screens in your digital home. Or, even better, your parents can tell stories about when those men were still around.
Your parents have stories. They’re grandparents now, and they love to tell tales of taking the blue line from South End uphill both ways. They’re on the older end of the millennial generation. We built this city for them. In fact, almost everything we made in the first half of the 21st century, we built either for millennials or baby boomers. There was a generation in between—Generation X—but they’re a smaller group, and they keep to themselves 3.
The city changed quite a bit in the years after you were born. All cities did.
The boomers craved community as they grew older. Sons and daughters of World War II, they aged far more gracefully than any generation in history. When they were born in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the average American lived 68 years 4. By the time they reached senior citizen status, that number was closer to 80. And now, with your generation’s advances in medicine, you should live to be 90 5.
You’re halfway there.
When those boomers grew old, they wanted to live close together. They wanted to be within walking distance of grocery stores and theaters and community centers. They wanted to drink an afternoon beer. We’d never seen such an active elderly generation. They didn’t want to be old. We retrofitted our neighborhoods to suit them.
Meanwhile, the millennials, those now-aging people we called hipsters and you call Mom and Dad, they craved downtown living too. It wasn’t because of their age, though. They loved it naturally. They were the first generation since the automobile revolution in the mid-20th century to choose to live in downtown areas 6.
You might not believe this, but before you were born, people shunned city living. Big, sprawling developments dominated the region’s growth in the 1990s and 2000s. We had houses that were four and five bedrooms. McMansions, we called them.
Then something happened. As technology advanced and we expanded our digital lives and talked to people halfway around the world in mere seconds, we stopped expanding our physical living spaces outward. Around 2010, about three years before you were born, people started to come back to downtown. That year marked the first time in years we saw Mecklenburg County growing at a faster rate than surrounding counties 7.
So what’d we do? We South-Ended Charlotte. We sent public transportation lines east and west and north, and we built around those lines, the same way we built around the blue line in the years before you were born. We built mixed-use buildings, apartments on top of shops and boutiques and restaurants. We built them in Second Ward at a feverish pace 8.
The area was once a black neighborhood called Brooklyn, then was demolished and cleared for a jail, then sat mostly undeveloped throughout the early 2000s. Now it’s filled with these mixed-use buildings.
More than 50,000 people live inside the Interstate 277 loop in September 2058 9. That’s a wild number, considering only 15,000 lived there in 2000. They have everything they need. You might not remember a time when every family had two cars that guzzled a gallon of gas in only 20 or 30 miles. Those were the days! Now, in the one-car-per-family world of the 2050s, with most cars doubly efficient, you laugh at that kind of consumption.