The other day I was walking down Agricola Street thinking about the election and what the future might hold for our city, when out of the clear blue sky, a magical thunderbolt struck, hurling me a century into the future. “Well,” I thought, “this is a highly improbable and almost certainly apocryphal turn of events.”
I glanced around at the Halifax of 2119, marvelling first at the steady parade of cars. I stopped a passerby. “Hey future Haligonian, what’s the deal with all of these cars? Where are the hoverbuses and teleportation tubes?” The nice man explained that people really like cars and they’d spent a lot on roads and whatnot, so government just decided to double down on cars.
But at least car technology has improved a lot, right? Like these are super safe self-driving cars? Drivers don’t kill pedestrians anymore? “Well, yes and no. Entitled pedestrians just kept stepping out at crosswalks, which often inconvenienced drivers, so now they can turn off the safety software. Sure, a car kills the odd person, but that’s the price of progress.”
Well, that was a little disappointing. But at least in 2119, everything runs on clean renewable energy? My new guide shook his head and looked at me is if I was a little dangerous. “Certainly that technology does exist and we could adopt it but … a lot of jobs depend on coal and oil. And if we stop, all kinds of hard working Nova Scotians would lose their jobs. How is that fair?”
But what about global-warming? “And we’re just one little province. We couldn’t fix the entire problem ourselves.” So you just did nothing? “Well, we banned straws and plastic bags. That’s something.”
That seemed reasonable. I guess. Kind of. Still, there seemed to be a lot of evidence that global heating and climate change were something of a problem. The trees remaining were sparse and battered. Few other plants were in sight. For that matter, there didn’t seem to be much in the way of birds and other animals, domestic or otherwise, around either.
My guide explained that the environment was still changing for the worse. Summers were hot and dry, except when the frequent hurricanes battered the city. Power outages were still common. Winters were even worse, with wild storms and enormous snowfalls.
Also, there were perks. “You know, some days the weather is very nice and sunny. We all have lovely tans. And the glaciers are gone, but… well, you couldn’t see them from here anyway.”
Desperate to find something to love in future Halifax, I kept walking. I saw one encouraging sign: every residence looked opulent and new. So many high-end developments. Giant brick and glass behemoths surround the Common, now more of a ceremonial green patch the size of a dinner plate.
Determined to find the good in this strange timeline, I stopped another prosperous-looking passerby and excitedly asked if this meant everyone was equally wealthy now. “Surely you fixed income inequality in the last century?” She chortled at my old-fashioned naivety.
“Oh no,” she patiently explained. “There are more rich people than ever and whoa, are they ever rich. All the poor people live in big apartment projects in Enfield City. Sure, they’re a long drive from the downtown, and there’s no transit so they need cars they can’t afford. But solving the problem would require a broad socio-economic transformation, and things are pretty good the way they are.”
The more I wandered around future Halifax, the unhappier I became.
Everything I liked about the city (the heritage, the mix of neighbourhoods, the ease of getting around, the green spaces and natural splendour) was gone. All that remained was everything I dislike: the income inequality, the car culture, the environmental indifference, the careless development.
At about that moment, another magic thunderbolt struck, and I tumbled back through the space-time continuum, landing in 2019 where I left.
I keep thinking about the unpleasant world I glimpsed, the one we’re all building brick by brick, every day. But I take some heart in the knowledge the future is not set. With a federal election underway (and a municipal one not too far away), I guess I’ll think a little harder about how I vote this time, and what the next journey to the future might be like.