Columbia 2025

Decades ago, when writers imagined the coming of the second millennium, they envisioned evil robots, personal jet packs and visitors from outer space. None of those things came to pass, but we do carry cell phones that look remarkably like “Star Trek” communicators, our computers have shrunk from the size of Mack trucks to the size of MacBooks, and we’ve witnessed scientific breakthroughs beyond the wildest expectations of those 20th-century dreamers.

When you consider how far we’ve come in such a short span of time, don’t you wonder what Columbia will be like by the time we pass the quarter mark of the 21st century? We do. So we consulted experts on technology, industry, food, travel, energy and more and asked them to give us an educated guess on what awaits us 16 years hence. Read on for a fascinating, inspiring and sometimes shocking look at the Columbia of 2025 (evil robots not included).

Planes, Trains And Automobiles … And Bicycles, Buses And Feet
How You’ll Get About A Bigger, Better, Greener Columbia In 2025

By Kelly Corrigan

Sitting at the head of an otherwise empty meeting table five floors up from Broadway, City Manager Bill Watkins ponders Columbia’s future.

“2025 is 15 years from now and in government terms, not a long way off,” he says, which brings up the question of how many government years there are in one regular year.

“Good question, excellent question,” he says, smiling. But before considering how he might measure them the same way we compare dog years to human ones, he puts it nicely: “Government moves very slow at its fastest.”

Watkins suggests a look at Columbia in 2050 would illicit different answers because the wait for 2025 in the grand scheme of things, he says, “particularly in the scheme of government, it’s not really all that long.”

Still, Watkins and his colleagues aren’t without hope and stacks and stacks of paper devoted to nothing but future plans.

Downtown’s Upswing

The trend for downtown, Watkins says, is not good. The sales tax collected in the central business district is in decline, while the city, the county and nonprofits such as churches and colleges are buying up property that won’t generate taxable revenue. To make downtown more attractive for people to invest in, Watkins says the government should tune its ears primarily to the community.

“If we continue to do what we’ve always done, we’re gonna continue to get a downtown that transforms itself to government buildings and churches and bars,” he says. “That’s what’s happening downtown. It’s not what I think the community wants.”

Counting On Growth

Columbia is getting old, and as the trend continues, one of Columbia’s most dominant groups, the 44- to 65-year-olds, will be moving on up to the older-than-65 group, one that made up only 8.9 percent of Columbia’s population in 2007, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The increase in the aging population has Watkins preoccupied. Calls for the fire department have already increased from that demographic and the calls have nothing to do with fire — they’re mostly emergency medical house calls.

“We’re trying to get our fire guys trained in emergency medicine because that’s what they’re seeing more and more of being required of them,” Watkins says.

Columbia’s Asian and Hispanic communities both will see a significant increase in numbers by 2025. From 2000 to 2007, the Hispanic segment of Columbia’s population grew from 2.1 to 3.1 percent; the city’s Asian population increased from 4.3 to 4.7 percent during the same period.

The 2007 census showed Columbia at a close-but-no-cigar population total of 99,174. Many say that Columbia has already surpassed 100,000 residents. Tim Teddy, director of Columbia’s Department of Planning and Development, says that any number beyond 100,000 doesn’t mean that the city will suddenly boom.

“There’s not anything magic that happens because of that, but continued growth will bring new things to this city,” Teddy says. In the statistician’s realm of lists, he says, Columbia will appear with cities that boast 100,000 to 150,000 residents.

“I don’t think it fundamentally changes the city, whether the number is 100 or 120,” he says. “I think it’s going to depend what the question is.”

Teddy says a majority of Columbia’s changes will come when the city is propelled into the census category of Metropolitan Statistical Area, a section that retailers pay heed to as they increasingly recognize Columbia as a trade region.

The city will most likely grow up and out, two directions of growth that are not mutually exclusive, he says.

“I think to some extent, growing vertically serves the demand for space for people who want to live close to work or just want to meet and be close to conveniences and entertainment,” he says, “but it also produces some demand for land outside the city for people who find that’s not their cup of tea.”

By Train Or By Plane

The way Teddy sees it, Columbians will tread lighter on the land, as people who once used trails for recreation eventually will use them for commuting to work. Jill Stedem, a spokeswoman for the city’s Public Works Department, says that more park-and-ride facilities will have popped up in Columbia by 2025, leaving fewer individual vehicles on the streets.

Columbia has a master plan under way — the CATSO 2025 Transportation Plan — that calls for transportation improvements across the city (CATSO is short for Columbia Area Transportation Study Organization). Projecting nearly a century ahead of the city’s first-ever transportation plan, written in 1935, the CATSO plan has five objectives for 2025 to keep transportation modes safe and efficient while accommodating the city’s development as it analyzes the socioeconomic and environmental impacts.

The CATSO plan argues that the private automobile is the preferred mode of transportation for Columbians, but the group makes the case for improving other transportation systems in Columbia. Using answers from household surveys, CATSO determined that mass-transit systems such as buses will attract ridership here only if transit time from home to work could be pared to 21 minutes; survey respondents estimated that their average commute time to work while using the current public transit system was 29 minutes — more than double the time Columbians take to get to work by car, which is an estimated 14 minutes.

Narrowing roads, streets without sidewalks and narrow bridges are also top priorities for the CATSO plan. The study proposes pedways, or bicycle and pedestrian paths, be placed near creek drainages that would add a total of 379 miles of routes to the current bicycle master plan. The 2025 plan implies that pedways wouldn’t necessarily make Columbians serious bicycle commuters, so it also proposes that busy intersections — such as Forum and Stadium boulevards, or the junction of West Boulevard, Business Loop 70 and Creasy Springs Road — need improvement for the safety of bicyclists. The CATSO plan also outlines potential roadway capacity issues and access problems for Business Loop 70 and College Avenue.

The 2025 plan identifies a potential extension of West Broadway (Route TT) spanning Interstate 70 to Scott Boulevard, which would provide an alternative route for traffic entering Columbia from the west side of town.

The plan also shows East Broadway (Route WW) widening, as it will continue to be a major transportation route from Garth Avenue to the eastern boundary of Columbia’s metropolitan area. East of U.S. 63, Route WW is two lanes and west of U.S. 63, the road consists of four lanes leading to College Avenue. A two-lane bridge over Hinkson Creek requires the four-lane roads approaching from east and west to merge into two lanes, which then creates traffic delays during peak hours. The bridge, which is also cited in the plan as needing sidewalks for pedestrians, might be replaced to accommodate four lanes, a sidewalk and perhaps a bike path.

CATSO’s 2025 plan amends its previous proposal for North Providence Road, which would have extended Providence from Vandiver Drive to U.S. 63. The 2025 plan removes the northern connection to U.S. 63 and instead connects an extended Providence Road to Route VV. The extension will cross Bear Creek and the Bear Creek Trail, which will require construction of a bridge.

A separate plan in development is specific to the future of air travel in Columbia through the Columbia Regional Airport and Columbia transit.

“The master plan we have right now, it’s basically a wish list,” Stedem says. “Right now it’s not something that we have funding for.” The city is still tweaking the plan, which will undergo two more public meetings before it hits the City Council and then the Federal Aviation Administration and Federal Transportation Administration for approval in late 2009. Some improvements could mean more buses, a new airport terminal and an improved runway.

“The [airline passenger] numbers that we’re seeing right now are increasing in the mid-Missouri region and could support expanding commercial and general aviation services,” Stedem says.

Watkins would like to see Columbians traveling faster on a high-speed train, one that might whiz from St. Louis to Columbia to Kansas City, inviting residents from these metropolises to commute to school at the University of Missouri each day. But trains are typically built on level land, and that’s why Amtrak’s tracks run through Jefferson City.

“It is, in my opinion, critical that a high-speed rail goes through Columbia, but that’s not the natural place you’d probably put it, which is along the river,” Watkins says. “Putting it along I-70 is not technically possible with the technology we have today.”

But a man can dream — especially when President Barack Obama has made available up to $8 billion in stimulus money for rail projects across the nation. One project would have St. Louis connected to Chicago.

“Unless there’s a whole lot more money coming, I don’t see the St. Louis-to-Kansas City happening in the near future,” Watkins says. If the opportunity were to arise though, Watkins stresses that Columbia must be ready.

Shades Of Green

Columbia’s first — although lesser known — infrastructure, the underground honeycomb of caves and springs beneath the city’s roadways, is what Jeff Barrow of the Greenbelt Land Trust of Mid-Missouri calls Columbia’s green infrastructure. By 2025, Barrow says, “The county and state will have measures to make sure that those areas are not developed inappropriately.”

The more money Barrow and his colleagues can accumulate from authorities, the more they’re able to scout out Columbia’s undeveloped property, then purchase the land and put it in trust for protection.

“I think there’s going to be more money available as society sees the value of it,” Barrow says.

The obstacle? Society itself. On a global level, Barrow says, too many impoverished people in the world tread on land strewn with trash.

“When people are impoverished, oppressed and repressed, they’re not showing any respect for the earth,” he says, “because they’re not getting any respect for themselves.”

Barrow’s second bone to pick with people and the way they treat the land comes in reaction to the mindset he sees in his fellow modern humans — the one that says it’s OK to stuff garbage into the earth’s cavernous openings, when a distant reality could mean that people will ingest the muck as toxins seep into nearby streams.

“If those people knew they were polluting ground water, I’d expect them to behave differently,” Barrow says.

So from here until 2025, Barrow will wait for society’s better trends, as ignorance fades and finally allows respect and knowledge to rule the land.

Read the expert predictions on education, communication, food, energy and much more in the August issue of Inside Columbia or in the digital edition on this Web site.