RP Siegel: Western New York 2030


It used to be too cold up here in Western NY to ride a bike in early April, but winters have gotten shorter. I also have a lot more flexibility now than at my old job. I work at a freelance co-op where a bunch of us share office space and equipment. So I’m out for a ride on a weekday morning.

I’m on what used to be the inner loop expressway. It was filled in ten years ago and now there are trails, community gardens, playgrounds and other common spaces. One trail circles the city, while others form commuting corridors that connect a number of neighborhoods with a now-thriving downtown. Many people walk or bike or take electric buses, many from net-zero homes. There are tubes that shield intrepid bikers and walkers from the elements.

The city has grown a lot in the past decade. People are attracted by the moderate temperatures and abundant water supply. Plus, this has become a high-tech hub. Even though so much is done now using virtual worker networks and 3D printing, the presence of major universities still attracts a skilled workforce. People have come to realize that there’s a limit to what virtual tools can provide and that there is no substitute for face to face interaction when important matters are at hand.

This is part of a trend emphasizing the human side of business. People are realizing that intangibles, like the richness of one’s social network, meaningful employment, and the depth of sharing are far stronger drivers of happiness and well-being than material wealth. That realization has been a key driver in our transition.

As for me, I probably wouldn’t be riding this bike if it weren’t for advances in health care. I have an arm band that transmits my vital signs to my regional health center. Early intervention made a big difference for me. Yes, the bike has an electric motor, powered by solar cells on my helmet, but I try not to use it. Bikes are safer now, too, thanks to lightweight and effective protective gear and electronic collision avoidance systems in cars.

Speaking of cars, a number of commuters use all-electrics. Most parking lots have charging stations that allow car batteries to feed the grid when demand is high. Otherwise, by charging, they store excess supply from the solar and wind installations found on many smart buildings downtown as well as the surrounding hills. Advanced hydropower systems pull base load power from the flow of the river. Other vehicles use fuel cells, and some still use internal combustion engines, though those are mainly powered with biofuels now.

The city has also upgraded public spaces on the lakefront and the riverfront. On my left is a community garden. Some plots are allocated to people who used to be on food stamps and now grow their own food. On my right is a facility that takes organic waste from the gardens, food processing facilities and residential yard waste and converts it into animal feed, biofuels, and compost. Everything is recycled now. The result is that we were able to close the county landfill. The sea change occurred when people who didn’t recycle began to be seen as foolish or uncool, just like people who smoked or didn’t wear seat belts did back in their time.

There has been a great resurgence of funding for schools, which now have incredible resources to engage students and prepare them for the dynamic challenges that await them. Such investment became possible with the “building from within” initiative which coincided with a reduction in defense spending. As people began to recognize the fragility of our planet they saw that not only nuclear war, but any kind of war was something the Earth could no longer withstand.

Yes, we have had terrible storms and droughts. Wildlife has suffered. And there are times when certain foods are impossible to obtain. But the fact that the entire world finally is pulling in the same direction, struggling to realize a shared vision of a flourishing future, makes 2030 the greatest time to be alive in all of history.

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