Late at night, I had this vision of Lexington in the year 2100 – see what you think:
In the year 2100:
1. The population of Lexington is about the same as it is now – for the first time in its history, Lexington’s population has remained stable for nearly three decades – a stable economy produces a stable population. The great oil shock of the 20teens lead to the “last depression” – complexity was ramped waaaaay back, leaving many people with no choice but to return to their small town roots. The upshot of that reverse migration was that most Kentucky cities gained population and returned to economic and social health. Lexington lost a lot of people. But during the “race to renewables” (kinda like the space program), manufacturing and engineering jobs brought a lot of people back.
2. Lexington is a collection of 15 or so villages. Centralized decision making doesn’t work when so many vital issues are very localized. The larger city government deals primarily with water, energy, and public safety. Fortunately, Lexington was more socially, economically, and racially integrated than a lot of other cities and was able to avoid most of the turbulence that others experienced during the great transition.
3. The Commissioner of Water is perhaps the most important position in the city. There is no longer the power to pull water up 700 feet and push it 50 miles from the Kentucky River, making local water use and conservation vitally important. Water is harvested in ponds all over the city. Every building has a cistern or rain barrels.
4. The Commissioner of Energy is perhaps the second most important person in the city. Nearly all available electricity is generated by renewables and all energy is produced locally. The Commissioner of Energy is responsible for managing the smart grid and the installation and maintenance of large generating facilities. None of our energy comes from coal – the last Kentucky mine closed in the 2020s – depletion, not environmental regulations, was the culprit. The world never did get around to dealing with climate change but peak oil did what humans could not. Fortunately, a new generation of miners was trained to mine the wind and the sun. Eastern Kentucky got its mojo back after the last mines closed.
5. The University of Kentucky has gone back to its Agricultural and Mechanical roots, but with a much smaller enrollment. Transylvania has remained remarkably resilient in its enrollment.
6. Every rooftop in the city has solar panels. The remnants of the big blue building and the other tall buildings in downtown and on UK’s campus are now used to support windmills. These tall buildings are no longer used as habitable structures due to their huge energy demands as well as the fact that they have been quarried for useable building materials. See next point:
7. Most buildings built between 1950 and 2010 have been dismantled. Their lack of adaptability to the solar economy the prime reason. These buildings were built with no regard for maximization of sunlight or to utilize prevailing winds for ventilation. By not being in tune with nature, these buildings required an enormous amount of energy for heating and cooling, energy that just doesn’t exist anymore. The UK hospital was perhaps the worst culprit. Designed as a 100 year hospital, it closed in less than 20 years as both exorbitant health care and energy costs combined to make it obsolete. It’s ok though; everyone leads healthier lifestyles with all the physical activity involved in daily life, and the fact that food is local, fresh, and unprocessed. Alternative healing has been used for decades.
These modern buildings were taken apart for their component materials and used to create a new generation of small scale, low rise (no more than 3 stories) buildings that work with nature to provide light, ventilation, shade, and buffering. Local schools are established in small buildings within residential areas. The mega schools of the early 21st century required too much energy, both within the buildings and in the transportation system.
8. Shopping malls and strip centers are now farms for the most part, either for growing food or for growing power. Hamburg Place is now the largest energy producer in the city. Land never lost its intrinsic value.
9. Commerce happens everywhere – in homes, on residential streets, and in informal markets that sprung up near housing concentrations. In these markets, under tents, one can find food, clothing, necessities and frivolities and tasty local food. Every day is market day, which is a prime form of entertainment.
10. Every home has a set of solar panels, either on the roof or on the ground. There are no more lawns – grass is way too energy intensive and food and energy production space too valuable. Large batteries for storing energy reside in the garages where cars once went.
11. Energy is the main job provider – installing, repairing, battery maintenance, teaching, weatherproofing – each provides a good job that can never be outsourced.
12. Another significant change to our cityscape: less trees – a lot less trees. Trees block solar panels and shade vegetable gardens. Most of the trees on private lots are gone – turns out our great urban forest was a thing of luxury. Trees do still line our streets to provide shade for walkers and bikers. So many city parks were barren in the early 21st century – now our parks are packed with trees to help offset the loss in private areas.
13. Much of the suburban housing that was built from 1990 to 2010 has been dismantled for the value of the materials within. The owners of these houses were bought out by the scrap dealers, who then sold the land back to commercial farmers – all in all a very weird transition: farm to suburb to scrap yard and back to farm. Too bad so much topsoil was removed from our developments.
14. Biofuels run farm implements and the ubiquitous three wheeled utility cycles. Small engine repair is one of the most important jobs in the city.
15. Bike manufacturing and repair is another key industry. Many shops make wooden frame bikes using local woods, a sublime blend of high-tech magic, and fine craftsmanship.
16. Our streets are all much narrower now. The cost of repairing them simply got too high. Now, most streets are down to one lane, which is shared by bikes and motor scooters. Walkways have been carved out adjacent to the travel lanes.
17. Hyrbid buses run on biofuels and electricity. The major city streets like Richmond, Nicholasville, and Harrodsburg Roads contain dedicated bus lanes flanked by the bike and scooter lanes and walkways. Along these routes are found the environmentally sensitive low rise, but dense building areas – a form of transit oriented development.
18. While there are still Thoroughbreds around, most farms in Fayette County are used for food crops, biofuels, and timber. The fact that there was land to do this on so close to the city is one of the most important legacies passed along from earlier generations. Keeneland still runs in the spring and fall. People take the bus or ride their bikes. There is still picnicking on the grounds -“Tailgating” – even though no one remembers why it was called that.
19. A generation of artisans uses local materials to create some of the most sought after clothes, shoes, and furniture. These are our biggest exports.
20. All the streams in the city have been restored to daylight after years of being underground in storm pipes. The changed climate brought intense storms that overwhelmed the ability of the aging infrastructure to handle it. Now, the stomwater that isn’t harvested, flows the way nature intended.
21. My son, who was born in 2002, witnessed much of this exciting century. To us, the early years seemed like a painful transformation; to him it just seemed like the ways things were meant to be. His son, who was born in 2030, thrived in the new Lexington. His daughter, my great-granddaughter, was born in 2058, and she runs a solar repair business. Her son, my great-great grandson, was born in 2088. He’s almost a teenager and growing up in a fantastic, independent, resilient city. He loves the fact that he can ride his bike out to the countryside safely, that he can sell his produce at the local market, and that he can count on spending his whole life here, surrounded by his family and friends.
What’s your vision of the future?