Durham 2040

Warning: This post has a lot of predictions. The only guarantee that I can make is that these predictions will almost certainly be proven extremely wrong. But it's fun to do anyway and, like most predictions, is more of a commentary on 2020 than on 2040.



Hello there Building Bull City readers in 2020. This is blogger Dave, writing from the year 2040. A lot has changed here in Durham that I wanted to share with you. So what does Durham look like in 2040?

How Work Happens

Back in 2020, the coronavirus forced many companies to ask employees to work from home. As the threat subsided, workers returned to the office, but employers realized that workers could be productive working from home. Slowly, businesses downsized their office space and allowed their employees to work from home more often, usually on alternating schedules. However, former office workers realized that they were getting extremely lonely.

That's when the co-working explosion of 2027 happened. Following a similar trajectory as the dot-com bust to the internet explosion of the early 2000s, the post-WeWork era saw a lull in co-working for a few years before it exploded again in the mid-2020s. Small co-working spaces popped up across Durham. People still didn't want to commute 45 minutes to an office, so the answer was a vast distributed network of office space throughout the city. Real estate professionals often talked about how "office is the new retail". But small retailers actually benefited as well due to these new "nodes" of office space and people spending money during working hours. Of course, these retailers are still experiential retailers like lunch spots, coffee shops, and showrooms for brands that have products you order online.

Transportation

Self-driving cars are finally here. They have only recently really taken over our streets as the technology came slower than most people imagined. In the meantime, smaller electric shared vehicles like scooters, covered pods, electric bikes, and delivery bots exploded onto our streets giving people a multitude of options for getting around. Self-driving cars have made safety concerns regarding vehicles a thing of the past, but they haven't solved congestion. As a result, people still use a wide variety of transportation options for getting around.

In 2030, Durham voted to make busses free and we have built out a strong fleet of busses. Advocates still call for BRT, but it still hasn't gotten support from the community, even though experts say it could be really beneficial. In 2032, Durham finally "Fixed the Loop", changing the downtown loop to two-way traffic. For decades prior to your year in 2020, officials agreed that fixing the loop is a good idea and it has been included in comprehensive plans over the past many decades, but it only became a reality when a large real estate developer bought a number of parcels around the loop and put pressure on Durham to make the change.

Living

Back in 2019, the big news was the passage of Expanding Housing Choices (EHC). At first, Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) aka Granny Flats as well as duplexes were slow to take off. The financial return wasn't there as building these ADUs was too expensive for the return they provided. However, three shifts changed the equation. First, automated and pre-fabricated building costs fell. Second, Durham amended EHC such that ADUs could have two units (1600 SF total). Third, an explosion of ADUs popped up after the coronavirus pandemic and as the Boomer generation continued to age. People felt more isolated than ever during quarantines and wanted to be closer to extended family. Therefore, those with means created ADUs without needing an adequate financial return. In time that new stock aged and some of it became rental housing as well, while some of it continues to be owned and occupied by extended families.

Environment

Durham was able to pass a new zoning designation for solar panel farms, allowing them in more places, both on roofs and on the ground. Also, the national economic recovery after coronavirus was based around building green infrastructure, so we have made great strides in having renewable charging stations in Durham, "greener" buildings, and a more sustainable built environment overall.

Other locations across the country weren't so lucky. Many coastal areas experience sea level rise and destruction to their built environments. As a result, the Triangle became an even more popular destination for transplants.


Overall, even with the cultural shifts outlined above, Durham doesn't feel all that different. Some of the problems we faced in 2020 still exist in 2040 like poverty, wealth gap, housing shortages, and lack of community (even though extended families sometimes live together, there is still a disconnect with the larger neighborhood). I often catch myself imagining/idealizing what Durham will be like in 2060.

Do you have any predictions for the future? Share them in the forums here!

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