(In 1994, a team of Redding journalists produced a series of stories that attempted to predict life in Redding in the year 2020. Greg Clark, who was part of that team, takes a look at just how accurate that crystal ball was.)
It’s been sitting there all along, smack in front of us, for 25 years and counting — the biggest, most visible time capsule this side of Betty White. Eight days long and wearing a catchy title, it was a bold exercise, even for newspaper folks, who tend to do crazy things for low pay and don’t have much humility in the first place.
It was “North State: A 2020 Vision,” a project first suggested by then-Record Searchlight business reporter George Winship as a way to examine Redding’s future “through the eyes and in the words of area leaders and activists.” What started out as a muffin soon turned into a full-blown eight-tier wedding cake constructed by a baker’s dozen of reporters, photographers and editors. The series of articles started on Sunday, July 31, 1994, and ran for eight days straight. Some days saw multiple stories. It was followed by a two-hour gathering of community members — a panel convened by the newspaper to further discuss the future. Last came an epilogue of sorts by then-Editor Robert Edkin who put it all in perspective — quite well in fact.
Full disclosure here: I was part of that team cajoling some of Redding’s citizens to squint at that crystal ball and talk about what they saw 25 years in the future. As graphics director, my job was to figure out how to illustrate things that might never happen and, if they did, wouldn’t show up for a couple of decades. Good luck with that.
But it all came together, and some time not long after, I scribbled a note in my mental datebook to check back in 25 years to see how prophetic — or pathetic — our efforts to envision the future really were. How cool would it be to see if a handful of engineers and teachers and cops and others really nailed our future life in 2020? And, if so, who do they pick to win the next Super Bowl?
The stories have been out there and fairly accessible. Thank God and Al Gore for digital archiving and that thing they simply called “the Net” back in 1994. They are creative and lively. The civic sources took reporters’ requests for their best prognostications seriously and the picture they painted of today — 2020 — is tack sharp in many cases. Smudgy in others. But it turned out more Mona Lisa painted with a blindfold than a paint-by-number of dogs playing poker.
Before we jump into the DeLorean and zip back to the future, remember this: The year 2020 seemed like Space Mountain on steroids back in 1994. After all, the internet was just growing legs and you’d be hard-pressed to find a cell phone that didn’t fold in the middle or look like a walkie talkie. In 1994, a quarter-century before today’s presidential impeachment soap opera, President Clinton was still five years away from his own, which took place in 1999. Monica Lewinsky was still a kid in college.
The economy was on a tear and the Dow had just topped 3,600 when this series was published. (It’s over 29,000 these days.) A 30-year fixed mortgage cost you nearly 7 percent annually and a 7-month certificate of deposit at Tri-Counties Bank paid more than 4 percent. A gallon of gas in Redding went for a buck and change.
Redding was just a few families shy of 77,000, but folks here weren’t overpaid. A Shasta County officer supervisor job advertised for $7.75 per hour and contractors looking for laborers were willing to cough up $5 an hour in pay. Oh, and you could read the 2020 Vision series, and the rest of the Record Searchlight, for $9.75 per month (it’s $62 now.)
Back then, 2020 was years, and lifetimes, away. How did the predictions hold up? Pretty darn well in a lot of cases. Smart people made smart predictions, eerily accurate in some cases. In others, not so much. Take a look:
Growth in Redding by 2020 was a theme that colored many of the predictions, by various “experts.” While the prediction that Redding’s population would grow to 171,000 by now was a clunker (the city has about 90,000), other forecasts were on the mark.
John Dunlap, then a principal in the engineering firm Sharrah Dunlap Sawyer, spoke of a need for more housing downtown, limiting long commutes and squeezing the benefits out of the city’s core. Dunlap’s a smart guy and he nailed that prediction like a two-dollar exacta. Dunlap said our downtown of 2020 would — or should — have affordable starter homes, taller buildings with shops on the ground floor, and bike and walking trails from there to the river.
That’s just what is sprouting along California Street and the now-opened-up Market Street. And with it, the theaters, bars and bistros.
Bingo. John Dunlap should be selling crystal balls on Ebay.
Others pointed to a fear of housing sprawl around Redding, but were cautiously optimistic it would be shunted by sound city growth policies. Jim King, a city planner at the time, warned of such sprawl and predicted growth would be driven by a large share of retirees. As the heart of health services for the region, Redding would be attractive to those retirees. Remember that the next time you’re stuck behind the gold Camry with the “World’s Best Nana” license brackets.
Predicting our 2020 economy in 1994 took imagination and skill. Amazon was just selling its first book and the internet was more of a luxury or hobby than everyday tool. One 2020 Vision installment described the latest tech marvel of 1994: a new service that allowed users to dial a local phone number and listen to 3,500 different songs, then buy the album on a CD shipped to them overnight.
The 2020 Vision stories predicted Redding shoppers would be able to buy “a dizzying away of goods and services” over the internet. It also envisioned future residents reading the “latest news-FAX” beamed into their “info-tainment console.” Remember, the first iPhone was still 13 years away.
However, the R-S sources predicted the Mt. Shasta Mall would be vacant and crumbling, sold to recyclers by 2020. Instead, they saw huge “mall marts” selling “everything from tweezers to tires, clothing to cars,” in huge multi-story buildings. Chamber of Commerce executives predicted mega-size supermarkets with footprints of 160,000 square feet or more. Guess what? Today’s proposed Costco on Bechelli Lane is to be 152,000 square feet.
Jim Zauher, another smart fellow who has helped guide Redding’s economic development for decades, rightly predicted that Redding will be the center of a growing medical services and device industry as Baby Boomers reach retirement age by 2020. He was correct on that as the city has a number of senior-living facilities, with more on the way.
The cars of 1994 came with a couple of high-tech safety features. They were called bumpers. But the experts in the 2020 Vision series foresaw a lot more in 2020 — and they were right.
Electric vehicles would become common — even predominant — with ever-improving batteries and government tax credits to promote sales. Others saw “smart highway gizmos” such as collision avoidance radars to prevent crashes. However, predictions of bumper-to-bumper traffic snarls throughout the city haven’t come to pass. At least not yet.
Next: Predicting schools, homes and crime 25 years into the future.
What do you think? What does Redding 2045 look like, and how should we get there? Share your thoughts in the comments below.