The Future of St. Louis: Predictions for 2114

The Future of St. Louis: Predictions for 2114
Peter Bollinger

The future of St. Louis — it's the first thing Jody Sowell sees when he enters his office at the Missouri History Museum. Granted, it's just an illustrated poster that hangs behind his desk — a gorgeous, minutely detailed vision of the city. A Forecast, it reads. Looking Up Olive Street, St. Louis, Missouri, in the Year 2010. It was commissioned way back in 1910.

"We often focus on what they got wrong," says Sowell, the director of exhibitions and research with the museum. "Innovation...it never goes as fast as we actually think it will."

On the eve of St. Louis' 250th birthday, it's hard not to regard the predictions in Sowell's poster with some bemusement. In the illustration, a riverfront view opens to a broad city street with bustling pedestrians and buses dwarfed by skyscrapers. Public-transit blimps float to and fro. A futuristic citadel rises over downtown on curved legs of impossible scale. Not everyone who thinks years into the future has the luxury of being so impractical. Take Don Roe, director of the city's Planning & Urban Design Agency. In 1914, Roe's predecessors drew up the first plans to revitalize the city's decrepit riverfront. Today, it's his job to take a measured, calculated approach to planning for the city's long-term future.

Engineer Shawn Leight.
Theo Welling
Engineer Shawn Leight.
Great Rivers Greenway's executive director, Susan Trautman.
Theo Welling
Great Rivers Greenway's executive director, Susan Trautman.

"Two-hundred-fifty years ago we settled along the banks of the Mississippi, and looking a hundred years from now, this place can still be a magnate for growth," he says. "Water is going to play a major role in shaping St. Louis and the region and as a whole."

As the city embarks on its 250th year, we here at Riverfront Times decided we wanted to mark the occasion by making some predictions of our own about what St. Louis will look like in 100 years. We called up some of the best local thinkers from the world of business, sustainability, transportation, agriculture and more, and asked what the denizens of the 2114 Gateway City will be building, eating, drinking and growing a century from now. They were kind enough to indulge us.

We also admit that, like the illustrator of A Forecast, we're choosing a decidedly optimistic vision of the future — no zombie apocalypse, population collapse or nuclear holocausts for us. And if that makes us a bunch of cockeyed optimists, so be it. Birthdays are for making wishes.
Danny Wicentowski

The Future of Weather
While this winter has been particularly bitter, warmer climes really are coming to St. Louis. Adam Smith, a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Conservation and Sustainable Development at the Missouri Botanical Garden, says temperatures in St. Louis have been rising steadily over the last 30 years. In another 100, he predicts, the area's average temperature will jump 8 degrees, from a yearly average of 56 degrees to 64 degrees. A typical day in July or August will blister at 100 degrees, with the hottest days clocking in well above that.

"This worst-case scenario assumes that humans do about as much as we are doing now to reduce climate change, which is about nothing," Smith writes in an e-mail. "So it's the worst case that has been modeled, but it's also the future we're currently headed toward."

This could have all sorts of negative ramifications, though St. Louis' geography means it will avoid rising sea levels while the Mississippi and Missouri rivers will stave off dire water shortages. Smith warns, however, that even those waterways could wither from both climate change and increased water usage upstream.

"Storms will be more intense, and dry periods between storms will be longer," he writes. "So we'll have a regular flood/drought cycle like we did two years ago when barge traffic was almost stopped on the Mississippi, and then a few weeks later it was flooding."

Andrew Wyatt, vice president of horticulture at the Missouri Botanical Garden, says the new temperate conditions would give St. Louisans a chance to plant warm-weather fruit trees like nectarines and peaches during most months of the year. He also predicts we'll do it through widely scaled vertical gardening, a space-saving farm technique for growing plants, vegetables and even forests on the sides of buildings. We'll need that new farm space to account for St. Louis 2114's denser population and stretched water resources.

"People might be living in smaller houses, smaller dwellings, and instead of a yard you'll have more of a vertical garden," says Wyatt.

Practical limitations in watering, weeding and maintaining vertical gardens hold these designs back today, but Wyatt thinks that in the future we will have the technology to create a St. Louis skyline blooming with produce.

Rising temperatures will also affect the area's animal ecology. Armadillo sightings have already become normal summer occurrences in Missouri. In a century, if they can make the transition from rural to urban dwellers, armadillos could become for us what rats and pigeons are for New York City.
Danny Wicentowski

The Future of Transportation
Sorry, St. Louis — there won't be flying cars in 100 years.

"It would just take too much energy, and traffic would just be a mess," explains Shawn Leight, vice president of traffic and engineering firm Crawford, Bunte, Brammeier, and an adjunct professor at Washington University.

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