Looking Forward: Alameda in 2014

What will Alameda be like 100 years from now? The question, with its infinite variables might initially seem impossible to answer, and thus absurdly futile to ask; but even if we can never know, the process of asking can be revealing, both of ourselves and of the community we live in.

Perhaps the first question we might ponder is will there even be an Alameda in 2114?

Our city lies in a particularly vulnerable geographic location: just a few miles off the Hayward fault, barely above sea level and flat as a table, the Island is a sitting duck for a major earthquake or the tsunami that might follow it, and the chances of either in the next hundred years is far from remote. A quake-generated tsunami could literally wipe the city right off the map.

The rising sea levels is another existential threat. It doesn’t take much imagination to anticipate what a sea-level rise of a few feet would do to our community. Our flooded and abandoned homes would buckle and collapse into the bay.

Fortunately the worst-case scenarios are not inevitable. As former host to the Naval Air Station with its aircraft carriers, it’s a reasonable assumption that Alameda would have been ground zero in any nuclear attack, yet the Cold War is over and we’re still here. Perhaps the future earthquake won’t be that bad; a dyke across the Golden Gate could hold back the rising sea. People living here in 2114 may well be worrying about other threats, including some we haven’t conceived of yet.

To ask what Alameda will be like in the 22nd century is almost equivalent to asking what the Bay Area will be like at that time, for our city has always been a central part of that megalopolis. Whatever problems the Bay Area will have — overcrowding, real estate pricing, deteriorating infrastructure, crime, pollution and noise, we’ll certainly get our share. But we’ll also partake of the benefits as well, particularly if there’s some kind of cultural or economic renaissance in the region.

I realize I’m being rather vague here. Sorry, but it can’t be helped. Futurologists and science fiction writers have a very dubious track record, and what predictions they do on occasion get right are often so distorted by reality that they seem more like a mockery than a vindication. Arthur C. Clarke’s famous 2001 a Space Odyssey predicted mainframe computers, Internet newspapers and a burgeoning human migration into outer space. He completely failed to predict cell phones, the collapse of the Soviet Union or the rise of religious zealotry as a major factor in world affairs.

He also predicted that birth control would be endorsed by all the world’s major religions. Alas, the real 2001 little resembled Clarke’s version, though for that reason the 1968 book does make fascinating reading today. And while we do have mainframe computers and Internet newspapers, those were about the only two things he did get right.

As for the human migration into space, beyond a few folks aboard the international space station, there’s no one up there at all. Instead society took an entirely different path into the cyberverse, which it created as it went along.

So if it’s that hard to accurately predict change, what can we predict might remain the same? I’d venture to guess that baring catastrophe, Alameda’s main heritage buildings, City Hall, the Carnegie Library, the Masonic Temple, and a good deal of our Victorians will still be around in 2114.

Alameda will probably still be an island (it wasn’t always so). The street layouts and names will largely remain the same. As it was 100 years ago, as it is today, some neighborhoods will be more desirable than others; however the desirable neighborhoods might not be the same ones we anticipate. The city’s future population is harder to predict — it will depend on the nature and density of the housing. I would hope that our public schools will still be functioning, as well as our libraries. We’ll still need police, fire and ambulance services.

What will clearly not be the same will be society itself. Due to the accelerating pace of technology and its socially distorting effects it’s almost impossible to predict what future people will be like. When I see a toddler walking around with a tablet instead of a toy, I do wonder what that toddler will be like as an adult. His or her grandchildren will be middle-aged in 2114. Their mores may well be as alien to our own as were ours to those of our Edwardian ancestors.

Perhaps future Alamedans won’t appreciate anything we treasure — they might raze the Victorians and put up strange new edifices in their stead. One thing’s for sure, the Alameda of 2114 will be their town, not ours, and they’ll damn well do what they want with it. But whether our values, conveyed from our time to theirs will have any effect upon them is still remotely up to us, for we are the ones raising their grandparents.

If we do it right, our values, distorted perhaps, but still intact, will be carried on to the Alameda of the 22nd century.

William Weinreb lives in Alameda.