What Happens Next
From urban planners to mental-health experts, six leading thinkers share their portraits of a world with another three billion people.
Layla McCayDirector of the Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health
In the future, you’ll never have to leave your neighborhood
Vinay GuptaHumanitarian designer and CEO of Mattereum
Big-city capitalism buys our way back to the quiet rural life
Hania ZlotnikFormer director of the Population Division of the United Nations
An urban future means growth for all cities, not just mega-cities
Alejandro EcheverriDirector of the Center for Urban and Environmental Studies at EAFIT University
Slums are growing around the world—but a city in Colombia has a solution
Tony SebaAuthor of “Clean Disruption of Energy and Transportation"
The cars of the future will end parking tickets, traffic jams, and car loans
Where We Thought We’d Be
We can’t predict the future, but we can learn from the past. Here are some experts who thought they got it right—but were often hilariously wrong.
- 1894 (for 1944)
On the nose
A journalist for the Times of London proclaimed that in 50 years, “every street in London will be buried under nine feet of manure.” In the Great Horse Manure Crisis of 1894, some 50,000 horses were producing as much as 35 pounds of manure a day apiece. At the time, these stinking heaps of dung seemed an ever-present inevitability in cities.
- 1925 (for 1950)
Scraping the sky
A Popular Science mock-up of the city of the future suggested a town built vertically, rather than horizontally. Sky-high living quarters and playgrounds, trimmed with urban foliage, were piled on top of schools and office blocks. Underground, four levels of transportation were linked to curving spiral escalators in an attempt to “solve congestion problems.”
- 1931 (for 2031)
Bright lights, blimp city
Francis Keally, the architect of the Brooklyn Public Library, was convinced that modern life would be dominated by blimp travel. To make it easier for these vehicles to “spread out over great areas like monstrous eagles,” he thought that most skyscrapers would be razed to the ground, and two-thirds of the city’s flat-topped, low-rise buildings would be used as landing areas.
Architect Frank Lloyd Wright felt the future of cities lay in boundless suburbs, with a population density of just 2.5 people to each acre. Wright believed people need space to be individuals, and that to honor the “dignity and worth of the individual,” you have to give them a bit of breathing room. Broadacre City, as the project became known, was an anti-city of sorts, where people coexisted as far apart as physically possible.
- 1964 (for 2014)
Fire, water, and ice
After visiting the 1964 New York World’s Fair, popular science author and biochemist Isaac Asimov laid out his vision for the future in the New York Times. As global populations swelled, he foresaw a world in which cities sprung up in desert environments, polar areas, and even on continental sea shelves: “Underwater housing will have its attractions to those who like watersports,” he wrote.
More from What Happens Next
Future of Aging
By 2020, people over age 65 will outnumber children under age 5. Humanity faces an urgent question on an unprecedented scale: How do we care for an aging population who can’t work, and harness the contributions of those who can?
Future of College
While the internet has made online learning virtually free, the price of traditional teaching is still soaring. When the job market is transforming more quickly each year, how can we reinvent education to keep up?
Future of Water
The world’s supply of cheap and clean water will likely plummet as the climate warms and populations boom. Can we find ways to conserve, cut waste, and find new sources before it’s too late?
Future of Gaming
With revenues topping $100 billion a year, the video game industry is poised to be this century’s dominant form of entertainment. As games become more addictive and expensive to play, how will they transform our social relationships as well as our leisure time?
Future of Home
Technology is transforming homes all over the world. In some places, cheap devices are powering and connecting homes long left off the grid. In others, newly automated and networked machines are reinventing convenience—but at what cost to privacy and human connection?
Future of Work
If automation continues at its current pace, 400 million workers around the globe will be displaced by 2030. In spite of the vast economic effects these changes will bring, will we seize the opportunity to reconceive the very meaning of work?
Future of Food
As global climate change worsens and the population expands, humanity must produce more food in the next 50 years than it has in the past 10,000. Are lab-made meat and automation the key to farming in the future, or must we tend to the soil we already have?
Future of Money
Anarchy reigns supreme in the future of finance, decentralizing the power of banks and, in some cases, the state. But will cryptocurrencies and the blockchains that underlie them solve our financial woes, or only worsen existing inequalities?
Future of Fact
Online manipulation and immersive media have begun to eradicate our shared notion of authenticity and trust. How will society change when we can no longer believe what we see, hear, or think?