Looking Ahead

Thursday, February 04, 2010

If predictions are correct and the U.S. population explodes over the next few decades, the country may undergo some major changes. Joel Kotkin, Distinguished Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University, talks about his new book, The Next Hundred Million: America In 2050, and his vision of the growing country's future.

We want your predictions for what the New York area will be like in 2050. Post them below!


Joel Kotkin

Comments [51]

Veronica from Florida

You could have asked the same question in 1850 and have gotten predictions of glum because of the new nationalities "moving in". All that changes over time is the name and faces of NYC residents but the cycle of NYC immigration is a constant. I am third generation Italian. My family came to America, settled in "Little Italy", prospered, moved away and another immigration group moved in to start the cycle again. We all must remember, go far enough back in your family tree and someone in the past was an immigrate to NYC. In summary, there will be different languages spoken in 2050 but the core of life will be the same. It is what makes NYC so special.

Feb. 06 2010 01:07 PM
Walter Ellis from Brooklyn Heights

It occurs to me that Brian, like me, is unlikely to be around in 2050. So he won't be able to say, "I told you so". The question is, will New York still be around in any recognizable sense? If The Day After Tomorrow is right, the hulks of oil tankers will be floating past the Public Library on Fifth Avenue. If the late Sam Huntington is right (and I spoke to him about this), the city will be largely hispanic and beset by ethnic and religious tension. If Wall Street has its way, people will need hugely expensive personal EZ-passes just to enter Manhattan from the outer boroughs, where the "little people" will live. Of only two things can we be certain: the Freedom Tower will not be built yet and the grandchildren of the 9/11 "families" will, by virtue of their holy calling, continue to exercise a right of veto on all decisions relating to Ground Zero โ€“ or Ground Zero-and-a-Half as it will then be known.

Feb. 04 2010 01:02 PM
Dw Dunphy from Red Bank, NJ

I guess my negativity is seeping in, but everyone seems so rose-tinted in their forecasts. I happen to believe that New York City will very unfortunately have to suffer another terrorist attack before 2050, the businesses that held in post-9/11 will say "enough" and will start moving to the country's center, providing a massive shift in where American wealth is located.

It sounds absurd that businesses would abandon the coasts (and yes, I feel the whole Atlantic coastline may represent too great a temptation to untoward outside attackers) but there might come a time when the logistics of safety outweigh the inherent comfort of location.

All this is to say that New York may not suffer overcrowding by 2050 and, in fact, might struggle to increase population.

I hope I'm wrong - It's certainly possible because I predicted the end of the American Idol TV series three years ago. Sadly, I was wrong.

Feb. 04 2010 12:31 PM
Chris from New York

#44 - After I posted my previous comment I realized that New York is getting to be like that already. How many young educated people do you know that can't find a decent job/any job?? I know many.

Feb. 04 2010 12:17 PM
Ed from Larchmont, NY

The problem isn't too many people, it's too few: not enough to pay into Social Security, not enough to pay into healthcare, etc.

Feb. 04 2010 12:09 PM
Mike from Inwood

The author may be 'fair', as in neither left nor right, but he is very naive. If world population 'levels off' at some high number, this life-style will not be sustainable. There will have been a massive die-off of other species, not just polar bears. And no, there will be no 2nd Aenue subway.

Feb. 04 2010 12:02 PM
Chris from New York

I agree with the caller who says the U.S., in 2050, will be like many Latin American cities. There will be a lot of educated people with no place to work. There won't be enough jobs for everyone. This will create a two class system, the haves/those who have access to work (via who you know) and those who don't. It will be a struggle for most to survive.

Feb. 04 2010 12:01 PM
Ed from Larchmont, NY

It sounds like there are too many people, but really there are too few: too few to pay into Social Security, too few to pay into health care, etc.

Feb. 04 2010 11:58 AM

I know a 72 year old man who was confident that the Bible promised the world would end last year. He spent and donated all his savings and (consequently) is about to be homeless.

Feb. 04 2010 11:58 AM
Sam Speed from Queens

In 2050 there will alternate side of street parking for the Segway

Feb. 04 2010 11:57 AM
Walter Ellis from Brooklyn Heights

Your guest is totally wrong about America as the multi-racial superpower of the future. As ever, Americans like to believe they are unique โ€“ and better than the rest of the world. London is already more multi-racial than New York; the Netherlands is set to become the world's first country with a non-native population; France, Germany, Italy, even Switzerland are teeming with immigrants. Get real!

Feb. 04 2010 11:56 AM
Jgarbuz from Queens, NY

Japan is developing robots to take care of their aged. Japan has neither the room nor the desire to become ethnically diverse. Japanese want Japan for the Japanese. America is a very different place, and could not remain homogeneous no matter how hard the former white majority wanted it to be. But America is a huge country and people have plenty of room to move around in for those who choose to live in mostly homogeneous communities.

Feb. 04 2010 11:56 AM
Hugh Sansom from Brooklyn NY

The National Weather Service (I think) has identified New York as one of the cities most at risk from severe storms in the future.

Feb. 04 2010 11:55 AM
Stephanie from Chelsea

It's already so difficult to govern this country. How much more difficult (or not) will it be in 2050 with so much more diversity?

Feb. 04 2010 11:53 AM
George from NJ

How arrogant a comment, "This is what's going to happen".
Growth of that size is unsustainable in any form of a quality of life acceptable to rational people.

Feb. 04 2010 11:53 AM

Why wouldn't there be ethnic civil wars in the USA by 2050. You have had multiethnic societies throughout history, didn't they end badly where a nation splits off into ethnic enclaves?

Feb. 04 2010 11:52 AM
Edward from NJ

Silly humans. Bow down before your machine overlords.

Feb. 04 2010 11:52 AM
kai from NJ-NYC

If Brazil continues its economic climb, it can challenge the USA as a multicultural hub and connector, although the US has about a 100 year head-start in its development.

Feb. 04 2010 11:52 AM
Hugh Sansom from Brooklyn NY

I think a lot depends on how the National Security State develops in the US. I think the guest and some callers are overstating how welcoming Americans are of others.

If Garry Wills, Chalmers Johnson and others are right, the US may not even be a formal, legal democracy in 40 years.

And your guest is not considering at all factors like chemical pollution (not just global warming).

A 15% increase in NYC population? A 15% increase in car exhaust? 15% more effluent in waterways?

Not sustainable.

Feb. 04 2010 11:51 AM
Steve S. from Washington Heights

New York should secede from the United States and be an independent city-state free port international trade zone sort of place by 2050. Just don't build that wacky airport in Central Park!

Feb. 04 2010 11:51 AM
RCT from NYC

Population and Government: very diverse;

Manhattan: very white, very rich;

Boroughs: built-up in areas where commute to Manhattan is easiest; otherwise about the same.

Westchester, CT: more people working locally, e.g. in White Plains, Stamford, Danbury.

I have a strong desire to suggest that, given the above, we turn Manhattan into a cage so that the very white, very rich, and very arrogant can't get loose; but I'll repress that desire (trying, trying . . . . )

Feb. 04 2010 11:50 AM


Feb. 04 2010 11:49 AM
Daniel from Munich

I would like to see NYC get more academic centers to match its growing population. It offers fewer academic job opportunities than cities that are far smaller.

I'm a New Yorker displaced by the lack of opportunities. It may be a center for young people looking to kill their 20s, work in an office, or go into banking; but I'd also like to see it become a place for young people to get thinking-man's jobs. Turn the city into a cultural AND academic center.

Feb. 04 2010 11:49 AM

Where does climate change fit in?

Feb. 04 2010 11:48 AM
Justin Blejer from brooklyn

Very few people will be able to communicate through language, art, music etc. in a personal way. Technology as abstract processes will replace simple spelling and reading, playing of musical instruments or creating.

Feb. 04 2010 11:44 AM
Tracy from NYC

The city will be filled with the richest of the rich. The middle class will be forced to move elsewhere and the poor will be trapped in a few scattered ghettos.

Feb. 04 2010 11:42 AM
Joseph Cavalieri from East Village New York

I am an artist in the east village and my work is based on my prediction for 2050. Because of DNA engineering and chemical spills it will be common to see 2- and 3-headed birds flying around New York City. Are there any changes like this in Joels predictions?

Feb. 04 2010 11:41 AM
Jim from NJ

A simple comment: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS RACE AS A TERM APPLIED TO HUMAN BEINGS! There is no scientific basis for it. That is the way forward when that conversation really begins. People can identify anyone they want, Black as a term of identifying with a inspiring historic struggle of people against horrible injustice, yes, a beautiful proud term. BUT, as a Black as a term of race has no meaning, nor does White.
RACISM EXISTS, Race does not.

Feb. 04 2010 11:41 AM


There have been hybrid restaurants for years in NYC. What about La Carridad on 77th and Broadway.

Feb. 04 2010 11:40 AM
Debbie from New York City

By then NYC will be putting up banners that say, "we are racist, prejudice, and bia free in this city"

What a beautiful day!

Feb. 04 2010 11:39 AM
smidely from

Hello Haitians! Hello Mexicans! Hello Chinese! Hello Indians! Hello Ecuadorians!

And the rest, goodbye.

(This of course is the story of NJ 2000-present aside from Haiti).

Feb. 04 2010 11:39 AM
Jesse from NYC

In 2050 I foresee a rich city surrounded by dystopian suburban and rural areas. Anyone who can will move into the City which will have more in common with the other global centers of finance like London, Shanghi (sp) and Bombay and little in common with its suburbs. Of course, the nativist and anti-growth attitudes that seem to be so much a part of the local dialogue in NYC are a threat to that. If they win, NYC will look more like Cleveland.

Feb. 04 2010 11:39 AM
Marissa from Manhattan, NY

I see bio-climatic skyscrapers on the ridge lines and anywhere called "-heights" 'cause most of the lowlands will be flooding every 10 years or so. Yonkers becomes the new Midtown. Let's build our infrastructures vertically, above ground - otherwise they'll flood. Urban spelunking becomes a favored tourist pastime. NYC develops a New New York along the Great Lakes - in former downtown Detroit and available lands in Buffalo.

Feb. 04 2010 11:38 AM
Tim Young from Manhattan

Rich people will rule. The Arts will be
almost gone. Boring.

Feb. 04 2010 11:37 AM
john from Annandale, NJ

NYC 2050:

"Soylent Green is people!"

Feb. 04 2010 11:36 AM


Isn't there a correlation between women as earners and independent economic actors and a decline in birth rates. I am not saying its a bad thing. But how would you grow the population and increase birthrates when women have many many more choices available to them?

Feb. 04 2010 11:36 AM
smidely from

ha! 5/hugh are you under the assumption that bloomberg is not a mummy?

Feb. 04 2010 11:34 AM
Julie from Hastings

My prediction is that New Yorkers of Mexican heritage will be many of our leading political and cultural figures: not only for NYC but also nationally and, indeed, trans-nationally.

Feb. 04 2010 11:33 AM
mahogany banks

New York City will be underwater, due to the melting of polar ice. We are not preparing for this reality. See images here:

Feb. 04 2010 11:32 AM
Jgarbuz from Queens, NY

Desuburbanization and reurbanization of America is inevitable due to the energy problem. But we must plan for a new kind of high rise housing, with much more spacious interiors, large patios, and with transportation available between buildings. I foresee very many high rise housing units each the size of the Empire State building all over the boroughs of New York, with elevated enclosed sidewalks and transportation from building to building, where most residents will rarely even have to come down to ground level at all. There will be little need. In other words, true 3-D cities not unlike 3-D chessboards.

Feb. 04 2010 11:31 AM

New York will be underwater.

Feb. 04 2010 11:31 AM
M. L. from Brooklyn

I hope the city resembles the New New York of Futurama, with people traveling around the city via pneumatic tubes. I would miss the pigeons though (owls seem to be the predominant bird in the series).

Feb. 04 2010 11:26 AM
Jon from NYC

@ Robin from Queens [8]:
Yes, but there's no destination for population flight - Suburbia will always be more expensive than The City, so people would be fiscally segregated into the 5 boroughs.

And yes, voices of reason will still be there in 40 years' time; they'll just be hard to hear over the din.

Feb. 04 2010 11:24 AM
Robin from Queens

All the things Jon from NYC said, yes. But ... hasn't the population ALREADY exploded? I can only hope these millions live elsewhere.

And like Jon from NYC, I'll probably be dead too, though I hope Brian's great voice of reason isn't.

Feb. 04 2010 11:10 AM
Jon from NYC

@ John from Manhattan [4]:
I'll probably be dead too (or wondering aloud whatever happened to Social Security as I wander aimlessly from Alzhimer's).

@ Hugh Sansom from Brooklyn NY [5]:
Dollar-for-dollar, double; purchasing power adjusted for inflation, the same.

Feb. 04 2010 11:00 AM
Jim Crutchfield from Long Island City

My hopes for transport, the key to everything else:

Private cars banned from Manhattan, with exceptions for special needs; replaced by streetcars and (quiet) elevated trains; with big parking decks and public transit hubs at all approaches. Waterfront reclaimed from highways for parks, housing, small business, small-scale marine traffic, fisheries.

Public transit fares eliminated or lowered to a token amount, transit system funded from taxes on business profits, as business is the real beneficiary of public transit--people travel either to work and create profits, or to shop.

Bullet trains link major cities; regional rail networks provide efficient passenger transport with rail roads installed on current Interstate highway routes; farm-to-market trains support small-scale agriculture and permit city-dwellers to buy local produce.

That would be a good start, if capitalism doesn't collapse in the mean time.

Feb. 04 2010 10:49 AM
Hugh Sansom from Brooklyn NY

I think Jon from NYC is mostly right! EXCEPT, the minimum wage will be the same as it is today. And a mummified Michael Bloomberg will be whining about government interference in business.

Apparently, the US population is projected to be about 420 million in 2050.

How will this be affected if the US suffers an effectively permanent economic decline, something akin to the decline of Britain after World War 2? (Britain's population still continued to grow to a whopping 60+ million today.)

Feb. 04 2010 10:39 AM
John from Manhattan

Ditto what Jon listed. That and, for better or worse, Brian will be dead!

Feb. 04 2010 10:37 AM
Nick from NYC

Manhattan will have been transformed into one gut-reno, million-bedroom apt. The buyer was lucky to get in to the market back when Manhattan had 3 or 4 apartments. The moving story of how they combined their sweat equity with a little help on the down payment from their trust fund will be featured in the NY Times Real Estate section

Feb. 04 2010 10:34 AM
Jon from NYC

- 9 million people (plus 500,000 tourists at any given moment)
- No way to get around (massively reduced subway and bus services)
- Rebirth of the slums/ghettoes/enclaves
- Manufacturing and industrial sectors even smaller than now
- Rental units four to eight times as expensive as now (Albany in its infinite indifference never adresses rent control/stabilization and affordable housing)
- Minimum wage doubles from now.
- Advertisements everywhere (perhaps even inside the lobby of your building)
- Everyone will rely on wireless (because the telecommunications sector never delivers on the promise of fiber optics)
- 311 will take its trillionth call (noise complaint, of course)
- Half of the radio stations go off-air; of the remainder, 66% are owned by one company.
- The West Side Yard remains a hole in the ground; the Jets and Giants never play in New York State
- The Wold Trade Center still won't be built (ownership litigation)
- The de facto "official" languages are English and Spanish
- The City will bankrupt (taxes were never high enough for sustainability), the lights will go out on Broadway, Queens will stay, they'll blow the Bronx away, and sink Manhattan out at sea...

Feb. 04 2010 10:24 AM

Of course, if the Arabs are successful their big mission to "reclaim" Israel, we can expect a renaissance in deli.

Feb. 04 2010 10:04 AM

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