2009 and December 2010, we spoke to hundreds of people about the
future. A few dozen of these people were nice enough to make predictions
about the future.
Some of these
predictions took the form of elaborate short stories, or intricate
drawings or maps.
Click on their
names to see what these participants submitted to the project. (Note:
to see these predictions in context, click on "Timeline &
a time traveler. Written on plain lined paper, found in a decaying
leather suitcase in a closet in West Somerville around 1999.
So I accepted
the invitation to time-travel to Somerville in 2048. The invitation
came from a little bird - a grey bird, like a mockingbird, only
smaller. (And then, he spoke to me, in English, inside my head,
so I knew he wasn't a regular mockingbird.) He says he will be my
As we come flying
in over the city, I am dazzled by the rooftops. They are covered
with solar collectors of all shapes and sizes. The ones like mobiles
wink and glitter when the breeze stirs them. The flat rooftops are
green with gardens - grape arbors and climbing roses, vegetables
and herbs, even trees. As we circle Davis Square, I can see that
the rooftops host a combination of birch and fir, hanging gardens,
and open meadows of grass and wildflowers.
No one's using
fossil fuels anymore, the bird says. It's changed everything.
He adds that
there's no advertising anymore, either - no commercials, no newsprint
advertisers dumped in mailboxes, no flyers, no print catalogues,
no billboards, no focus groups, no glossy magazines, no spam, no
telemarketers, no pop-ups. How did that happen? All the bird will
say is that the word yuppie is no longer in use, anymore than the
words homeless or 'disadvantaged', because calling people names
because of the amount of money they make or don't make is just 'silly'.
As if this tells me anything.
But he continues:
Many of the roads have been dug up and planted. The houses in rows
are still there, but now the rows tend to curve, and from the air
the neighborhoods - like little tribal enclaves - are obvious, even
though they run into each other. Streams knit and divide the neighborhoods
- he says the streams are all the water that used to run free above
ground, released, as well as irrigation creeks, running off every
which way, and glinting with the quartz in them.
is planted as far as I can see with spirals of corn, and tucked
in next to the corn are all kinds of plants, that the bird says
are vegetables and flowers. Around and off from the spirals are
greenhouses for vegetables and fruit; but the greenhouses are in
the process of being dismantled for the summer, as the orchards
and gardens come in.
In the middle
of Davis square is a giant European purple beech, about fifteen
feet in circumference. It's a wishing tree, and it's hung with offerings
- bells and folded colored paper, tiny bottles, birdseed on sticks.
Underneath the tree there is always a storyteller, and there is
always a dreamspeaker. Other parts of the square are devoted to
music and dancing, and moving or not meditation, and outdoor schools.
Apparently all the squares in Somerville - and what used to be Boston
and the Cape - are like this now.
The T station
is still here, only it's running green on a combo of wind and solar
energy. There's a monorail system overhead, zipping around as silent
as a dragonfly, and carefully constructed to follow ley lines. I
see horses and donkeys - Tufts field has become pastureland - and
even more bicycles and bicycle-carts - the bike path that used to
end at Cedar Street now runs all the way to ocean in the east, and
to New-York-state-that-was in the west.
parking lots in Davis Square have become live-in parks, dotted at
random with small to medium-sized cottages - each one different,
but most have grass or flowers on the roof - that turn out to be
no-income housing, for those people who used to be called homeless.
Now they live among communally owned and tended orchards and gardens,
but in their own homes, each stamped with the personalities of it's
owners - one is nearly invisible in the bamboo grove around it,
another is painted in blue, pink, and green stripes, another seems
made entirely of windows in different shapes and sizes, each one
curtained in so many colors the house looks like a patchwork quilt.
There are a
LOT more birds - even big ones like eagles and cranes, and is that
a flock of passenger pigeons? - and fewer people overall, but way
more children out and about, playing in the grassy spaces where
the traffic used to be. There isn't anything resembling a skyscraper
around here, not even downtown; my bird-guide tells me they went
the way of the woolly mammoth and the meter maids. And the big nursing
home on College Avenue is part-school, part elder home. Apprenticeship
is once again the mode, so there's less 'retirement', and then there's
always those elders who are good with kids, and kids who need them.
Across the street
and up a block, it seems the West branch library is open 24/7, with
plenty of librarians for each shift, and no shift lasting longer
than 4 hours. It seems like a joke in poor taste that the library
was once closed most evenings, every night, and all weekend, and
understaffed besides. In this day and age it has been completely
restored inside, and has trees out front and flowers on the roof,
like a crown.
People are so
much more laid back! Nobody walks around talking on their cell phone
and clutching their commuter cup of coffee. They laze in the sun,
or weed the gardens, or do Tai Chi, or dance and play music, or
read, or write, or eat and drink at little tables on the sidewalk
patios, or sit with their own picnics by the creeks and streams,
or on benches and stones in the parks. They're paying attention
to the people they're with, or to what they're doing, or just watching
the world go by. They seem to be enjoying themselves.
They don't dress
all alike, either - it's not business suits or jeans and t-shirt.
There's a tall, large person of indeterminate sex striding down
Holland Street wearing floaty pink robes and headscarf, just for
instance. There are people in simple monochrome colors, and ones
in tatterdemalion; there are robes and skirts and trousers, shirts
and vests and tunics; but everything is looser and more comfortable
looking. Even the shoes look comfy, no toe-pinchers here.
I take off my
own shoes to walk barefoot in the grass. The air smells sweet, and
the light is somehow different - less brown, more blue. Is that
because I'm dreaming? But as the sun sets and a million stars come
out, I see that the Milky Way is visible once more in the night
sky, and realize, without the bird telling me, that it is simply
lack of pollution that has changed the smell of air and the color
The night market
is opening. I stand at its entrance, at the old bike path behind
the Somerville Theatre. The line of overarching trees is still here,
but so tall! And it seems more like an endless forest, this place,
than a line of trees. The night market is lit by humming globes
of light, floating in the air. They move as if they're alive. What
But the bird
doesn't say. I smell grilled fish. A strawberry cart is close by
- a young woman is turning the heaped piles of tiny strawberries
into juice. Just as I am wondering what to use for money, the bird
whispers in my ear, and I am pulled back.
And then I am
at home, back in the here-and-now, hungry and thirsty in this particular
May 30, 2009