Back in 1962 on Columbus’ 150th anniversary, local politicians, educators and industry leaders were interviewed on what they thought the future might look like. The predictions were made for the year 2000, but even 20 years past that date, many of the predictions have proven wildly inaccurate… and a few that have surprisingly come true.
Growth, Population and Demographics
Prediction: The city would have a population of 1.5 million in 2000 with 2.2 million in Franklin County.
Result: In 2000, the city had less than half the prediction, with just 711.5K and roughly 900K today. The county had 1.069 million in 2000 and 1.318 million today. Both are a far cry from the 1962 predictions, despite relatively strong growth since then, especially by Ohio standards.
Prediction: Columbus and Franklin County would be merged and operated under a single government.
Result: While there have been proposals for this going back to the 1930s, it has never happened and isn’t seriously under consideration today.
Prediction: Downtown would have “grass-bordered pedestrian parks with auto traffic running underground”.
Prediction: Downtown’s streets would be multi-level, with elevated decks for pedestrians, and cars travelling on lower decks.
Result: There are currently no elevated or multi-level roadways. If anything, an increasing number of such structures are being torn down nationally.
Result: While several new parks have been created over the years in and around Downtown, the only significant tunnels built under the city have been for sewage and water.
Prediction: Renovation of the Scioto River levees in 1962 would allow for new recreation and parks along the river.
Result: Any infrastructure improvements along the river at the time made little impact on the overall use of the Scioto. It took another 50 years with the development of the Scioto Mile and the Scioto Greenways to significantly alter how Columbus residents interacted with the riverfront.
Prediction: Instead of walking, electronic sidewalks would move people around.
Result: Technically, these already existed at the time in the form of escalators, and while they haven’t proliferated around cities, people-moving sidewalks of a sort are now common at airports in long corridors.
Prediction: Cars would be under the control of cables buried under streets instead of drivers.
Result: While no cable system exists, autonomous vehicles are now a thing and Columbus has at least one autonomous shuttle currently operating in Linden.
Prediction: The Ohio Penitentiary would be replaced by an office complex.
Result: The Pen closed in the 1980s and was demolished in the late 1990s for the development of the Arena District. While there is some office space, the AD is a far greater development than envisioned in 1962.
Prediction: Union Station would be used as a transit hub for a monorail, bus and helicopter transit system.
Result: Union Station was torn down in 1976 to build the convention center after much controversy. There is currently no multi-modal transit hub in the city, despite numerous attempts to build one over the years. The city still only has a bus system.
Prediction: High-rise apartment buildings would go up along the edges of Downtown.
Result: Only a handful of legitimate high-rise apartment buildings have gone up since 1962 Downtown, including Miranova, North Bank Condos and Waterford Tower. A few more are in the works.
Prediction: Products and people would be shipped across the country by rocket ships.
Result: Rocket ships didn’t happen, but there are proposals for a super-fast system of transit. The closest example would be the Hyperloop, which is currently under testing and with which Columbus could one day be a beneficiary.
Prediction: Big Darby Creek would be dammed by at least 2 structures to provide water for the city and as flood control, with a new water purification plant built along its banks.
Result: Thankfully, this didn’t happen, as the Big Darby watershed is one of the most pristine in Ohio. Instead, it has been expanding as one of Columbus’ largest MetroPark.
Health and Safety
Prediction: Organ transplants would be possible and common, with many made of plastic.
Result: While organ transplants are indeed common now, they are largely just the flesh and blood type.
Prediction: “Irradiated” food would allow the “housewife’s chores” to be “revolutionized, preparing meals weeks in advance.
Result: This one, of course, didn’t happen and is an obvious example of the 1960s limited imagination of a what a woman’s role in society could be or would end up becoming.
Culture and Entertainment
Prediction: Instead of washing machines, people would use “sound waves” to clean clothing as it hung in home closets.
Result: Unfortunately, doing laundry the old-fashioned way is still in our present and future.
Prediction: Clothing would be made out of paper and be thrown away after single-use.
Result: I’m not even sure how this would be possible or practical.
Prediction: The use of “magnetically inscribed cards…read by electronic cash registers” would be used for purchases.
Result: Credit and debit cards are now just as popular, if not moreso, than paper money.
Prediction: Schools would operate year-round.
Result: While a year-round school year has been toyed with over the last 50 years, there are very few districts that have switched to it.
Prediction: Movies could be rented for personal use, and televsions could provide commercial free programs to individual households.
Result: Movie rentals did happen with the invention of the VCR and DVD player. The second part of the prediction is basically describing a streaming service like Netflix, which has killed the rental market.
Prediction: Columbus would have its first resident visit the moon.
Result: Ohio has seen several astronauts, a few of which did end up making it to the moon, but no Columbus residents to date have been there.
Prediction: People would be able to read minds with “electronic gadgets”.
Result: While no actual mind reading exists today, the study and understanding of human behavior, and therefore predictions of it, have come a long way.
Prediction: Interplanetary travel would be in its early years and “colonists” would be travelling regularly to Mars and Venus.
Result: There is some truth to this as there are plans to venture to Mars, as well as experimental technology in development that could allow us to travel to other stars planetary systems someday. And unmanned probes have been getting closeup looks at other planets for decades. However, no one is going to Venus, which we now know is an incredibly hostile place where no human could ever visit, let alone live.
Planners in the early 1960s were full of grand ideas, but they were definitely a product of the times. The city they imagined was full of the bright and shiny hope of the Space Age, with everything old and natural swept away for a Jetsons future. Technology has advanced in ways that they saw coming decades before it happened, but in many ways they never could have imagined. They didn’t imagine, however, the consequences of all that technology and highways and consumption and how we’re still cleaning up the mess of some of those mistakes. And making new ones along the way.
The future we face today maybe doesn’t have the same irrational, aspirational hope of the 1960s, but there is still hope. We face some of the gravest threats of our existance, with many of them of our own making, but we have the capacity and ability to solve them and to have a future every bit as bright as the one imagined almost 60 years ago. Perhaps in ways that we too could never have imagined.