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Monday, 20 February 2012 11:20

What will West Michigan be like in 2050?

Written by  Rod Kackley
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WEST MICHIGAN — Every “end of the world” prediction so far has been wrong.

We are still waiting to see if the world will survive past 2012, thanks to the ancient Maya. Assuming they, too, will be wrong, MiBiz set out to find out what our world could be like in 2050, an arbitrary date to be sure, but the halfway point of the 21st century.

Some municipal officials contacted by MiBiz were hesitant to predict anything 38 years down the road.

“That is a hard question to answer,” said Kentwood Mayor Richard Root. “I am still trying to figure out what our governance will look like in the next 10 years.”

As Walker City Planning Director Frank Walsh stated in an email, “We simply don’t know how Michigan is going to recover, or if it will recover, by that time. It took approximately 25 years for the Pittsburgh area to come back to something new. But then you can look at Youngstown, Ohio, and you quickly realize that economic and social recovery is not necessarily a guaranteed result.”

Even well thought out predictions can be proven wrong. Walsh said the original City of Walker master plans in the late 1950s and 1960s pointed to the cities of Warren and Flint as desirable models for the future city of Walker. Forbes magazine recently listed Warren and Flint as two of the “Most Miserable Cities” in the United States.

With that in mind, this reporter forged ahead.

George HeartwellGrand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell said he thinks changes to transportation will mean the region’s people will get to where they want to go in a much different way in 2050 than they do today. He said he believes people will still be using cars, trucks, buses and planes, but the way the vehicles will be powered will be different.

“Gas is gone by 2050,” Heartwell said. “Electric buses will represent the older part of the fleet. Hydrogen powered vehicles will be steadily replacing them.”

Heartwell does not think there will be much of a change in the way water and sewer service is delivered in metro Grand Rapids. He told MiBiz that because of the investments that have been made in wastewater management in the area, it is doubtful that further consolidations will take place.

“Unfortunately, the decision of the North Kent Sewer Authority to go its own way and leave the Grand Rapids system eight years ago all but guaranteed that no consolidation can happen in the next century,” he stated. “Wyoming and Grand Rapids have more potential for cooperation and the recently executed (Grand Valley Regional) Joint Biosolids Authority holds great promise for the future.”

Heartwell also believes that by 2050 there will be a regional law enforcement authority with only “a small handful of communities” remaining independent.

Grandville City Manager Ken Krombeen told MiBiz he too could envision a more cooperative metro Grand Rapids when it comes to the delivery of water and sewer and public safety. He also foresees a continued drive for efficiency.

“Before you expand, before you spend, there are ways you can reduce,” he explained. “You make collaboration an option until there is a legitimate reason to rule it out.”

Root said he expects more consolidation in the region’s future, but leaders won’t arrive at any such decisions lightly.

“It is hard to make the case to our residents that we need to combine or consolidate services with another community,” he said. “But some day, we could be looking at a metro governance model. A county police department could be a better model.”

Root, like several of the other municipal officials, also pointed to The Rapid as a model for future regional cooperation.

John WeissGrand Valley Metro Council Executive Director John Weiss, whose responsibility it is to look at West Michigan from a regional perspective, foresees jurisdictional lines between communities blurring in the next two to three decades as the population grows. That would push the consolidation or, at the very least, the collaboration of community safety and utility services.

“The MSA will continue to unite, and we will have to think more regionally,” he said. “I also see West Michigan becoming a health care anchor that will broaden to the lakeshore on the west and Lansing on the east.”

Former Grand Valley Metro Council Executive Director Don Stypula said that he shares Weiss’ prediction of more regional thinking by 2050 and that he envisions increased collaboration and cooperation. But Stypula does not believe we will ever lose our love of locality.

“This is a state of small towns,” Stypula said. “People are proud of the places they call home, and they do not want to see them disappear. But they are demanding that they become more efficient.”

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What will West Michigan be like in 2050?: Technology

Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich might not be too far off base when he talks about establishing a colony on the Moon.

Kieth BrophyWhile Keith Brophy — one of West Michigan’s original “techpreneurs,” now the CEO at Ideomed, a health care solutions provider — did not address the Gingrich goal, he did tell MiBiz that he believes there will be significant space travel by 2050. By then, people will already be beginning the “space gold rush” era.

“Our universe is a rich container of a variety of elements that humankind will find increasing use for,” he stated in an email. “Expect both base station type activity on the moon and Mars, as well as many long-range probes and the emergence of various types of ‘element farms’ as well as transportation of traditional earth-bound farms into space.”

He said he also expects the so-called “Blue Economy” to become even more important by 2050 as more people begin to explore oceans and large fresh water lakes, such as the Great Lakes. Water will be a somewhat scarce commodity in decades to come, and the cost will go up considerably, he said. But with every challenge comes an opportunity, perhaps for fellow tech entrepreneurs.

“Your hot shower will be replaced by a warm air fan blowing moisture droplets on you and a robot quickly wiping you down,” he said.

Brophy said lives will be very robotized and computerized in 2050: Computers will be our lives, and our lives will be computers.

“We will be able to talk to (computers) to give them instructions or control them simply by waving our hands or typing our fingers in air. Walls, ceilings, floors and tables will all be display devices where info we want to see simply materializes in front of our eyes,” Brophy said.

Cars will also change and will likely be powered by hydrogen fuel cells, Brophy said. He said people will be driving differently, too.

“Our cars and trucks will certainly be controlled by a guiding hand of invisible technology to keep us safe and out of accidents,” said Brophy.

Smart phones will be thought of as totally dumb phones, or at least very quaint communication devices, he said. Instead, holographic communication will be the wave of the future. People will be able to talk together as holographs.

That will spill over into entertainment, as movie theaters will be “grand virtual reality spectacles” touching all the senses.

— Rod Kackley, MiBiz

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What will West Michigan be like in 2050?: Health Care

Lody ZwarensteynBy 2050, West Michigan will not have three major hospitals anymore. Instead, Alliance for Health President Lody Zwarensteyn told MiBiz that “care will be delivered in other forms, so three hospitals won’t be necessary.”

He said he sees the beginning of that trend today as technology allows more sophisticated outpatient diagnostic work. Recovery no longer has to be associated with lying in a hospital bed. Fewer patients in fewer beds obviously would lead to fewer hospitals.

“I have this Pollyannaish desire that the tech developers will keep quality and efficiency in mind,” Zwarensteyn said. “There is no reason it has to cost more. There is every reason it should cost less. But now, there is every incentive for it to cost more.”

The consolidation Zwarensteyn forecasts would also open the door for more boutique special programs that would be organized separately. “We could see a heart-only clinic (or an) orthopedics-only clinic, for instance, where they could provide very good care in those specialties without worrying about providing a full-range of services.”

That would also mean they would not have to worry about providing care for the poor. That would be delivered on a goodwill basis only.

Zwarensteyn trusts the West Michigan medical community to continue delivering a very solid value for price and quality of health care service in 2050 “because people in West Michigan want a good return for their money and health care providers have a history of doing that, of offering you a good buy for your dollar.”

He also believes health care in West Michigan will be “very much toward the front edge. Is it going to replace the Cleveland or Mayo clinics? Probably not. But it is going to be very good care delivered with price advantages that should be attractive.”

Zwarensteyn said some form of a single-payer health care insurance system is probably inevitable by 2050. He believes everyone agrees the current system of payment just isn’t working well, and “our system is broken. … I have yet to find someone who will disagree.”

Zwarensteyn said he is concerned about what level of primary care will be available in 2050.

“We don’t have enough general practitioners,” he said. “So we have to either find a way to get more of them, or we have to change the primary care system to take care of more people because more people need primary care than anything else.”

— Rod Kackley, MiBiz

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What will West Michigan be like in 2050?: Manufacturing

Chuck HaddenMichigan Manufacturers Association President and CEO Chuck Hadden predicts massive changes in the way we make our world in 2050. He believes our factories will not be totally robotic, but they will be very close to it.

“Raw material would come in on one end and a finished product would come out the other,” he said. “The only reason for a human is that everything would be customized and someone needs to feed that into the machine.”

That will mean that manufacturing workers, the people who “feed … the machines” will have to have skills to work with machines that Hadden said he “can’t even imagine now.”

That does not mean that only computer geeks will be running the factories of 2050. Hadden sees a return to the days of craftsmanship, combined with what seems now to be futuristic, high-tech, computerized operations.

Manufacturing“The skill needed most will be creativity, combined with engineering,” Hadden said. “We will almost go back to the day of the tool-and-die shops where you combined art and industry.”

Hadden said the factory workers of this new age will have to be “artistic by nature” along with possessing an understanding of function.

If humans are only needed to feed information into the line, it would seem that we will not be returning to the days of the mid-20th century when the assembly lines full of workers helped to create the middle class, along with the cars they put in their garages. Hadden said he can’t imagine returning to manufacturing employment in numbers like previous generations.

He also noted that manufacturing productivity is higher than ever and will only keep going up.

“Companies are going to find more ways to do more things,” said Hadden.

What about Michigan’s place in the manufacturing community of 2050? Hadden hopes that our state and all of the upper Midwest, from the Great Lakes to Pittsburgh, will be one of the eight manufacturing mega-regions of the world.

“Each one of those regions would be competing for customers and new ideas with new levels of productivity and creativity,” he said.

— Rod Kackley, MiBiz

Read 2828 times Last modified on Sunday, 12 August 2012 17:55

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