Madison in 2111: Part Two

[This article originally appeared in the October 2011 issue of Madison Magazine]

If you used a computer mouse today, you can thank IDEO, a design firm (and first-generation mouse designer) that puts people at the center of its projects. My team uses IDEO’s processes, repeatedly reminding clients (and ourselves), “People first.”

This is harder than it sounds. When you’re building a city park or refining your company’s I.T. infrastructure, it’s tempting to start with a map of the park or a meeting to talk about software. It’s human nature to jump to “What?” and forget about “Who?”

But the premise of this two-part series is to ask, “What could Madison be one hundred years from now?” And to answer that question, we need to ask, “Whom are we building for?” and “What’s our intention?”

First Who, Then What

Who’ll live in Madison in 2111? It won’t be me … or you. But here’s what we can guess about our great great grandchildren:
• In 2111, if Facebook still exists, it will be 107 years old.
• Some of our great-grandchildren will own self-driving cars, which cause fewer accidents than people-driven cars, and allow our offspring the now-illegal convenience of texting while driving.
• They will live in homes with energy meters that sense when they’re home, and adjust energy use accordingly.
• They will own refrigerators that alert the grocery store when the milk has gone bad.
• They will work in buildings that breathe, providing their work pods with fresh air all day long.
• They will book long weekends to what we currently call “outer space.”
• They’ll be able to custom-design offspring with certain desirable traits. Think designer dogs, but with two legs instead of four.
• They’ll be able to communicate with computers through thought.

Of course, it’s impossible to know exactly what will transpire down the road. I mean, in 1969, who would’ve thought that Paul Soglin would be Mayor again today?

You just never know …

But in thinking about the possibilities, you shake loose alternatives that you’d never really considered. And that brings us to our intention. What do we hope our great great grandchildren’s lives will be like?

Prosperous, for one. All of us want our kids and grandkids to have it better than we did.

We also want our kids to be happy. We want them to spend less time in traffic and more time contributing to society and doing things they love.

We want them to be healthy—to breathe clean air, drink clean water, enjoy wholesome foods and stay fit and active.

Here are some things I imagine for our great great grandchildren, the people who’ll call Madison “home” in 2111:

• They can get to Chicago in 40 minutes. This would make Madison a viable exurb to the second strongest economic region in the United States (and one that’s expected to emerge powerfully from the Great Recession.) As long as we’re at it, how about if they could also get to Minneapolis in 60 minutes?
• They can meet most of their daily needs on foot. Whether they’re going to the grocery store or attending a virtual church service in Dallas, they can reach their destination without getting in a personal automobile.
• They speak three languages (English, Mandarin and Spanish) and get international experience in high school working for one of our vibrant second stage businesses—those who’re past startup, but not quite to maturity. (Research shows that students who intern in a city are 75 percent more likely to stay in that city. Research also shows that second stage startups create more jobs than companies with more than 500 employees.)
• Their families flock here because Madison is named “Best U.S. City for Education” based on our high rates of high school and college
completion among non-whites, who’ll make up most of our population in 2111.
• They invest half of their money in local companies and entrepreneurs, through a local stock exchange. To them, “Wall Street” is a
historical footnote; they will put their money where their ZIP code is.

That’s just a start. What do you hope for our great great grandchildren? What do you think Madison can be in 2111?

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