The Sustainable City

By David Miller of Miller Hull Partnership, Codesigner of the Bullitt Center, the World’s Greenest Office Building

It’s entirely possible that in 50 years we could radically alter the infrastructure of Seattle. The proposal now for the waterfront is to have a more natural edge, a more natural shoreline. We could spread that idea through the city by dividing it into ecodistricts, which could utilize different kinds of technologies for capturing energy. Districts close to the water would tap tidal energy. Hilly districts could install turbines to make use of the groundwater flowing under the surface or in streambeds running through the city. Areas that have better access to sunlight could use photovoltaics, or solar panels.

There’s going to be fewer single-family houses. People say that Seattle is a single-family place, and that that’s the American way of life. I don’t buy it. A house can take many forms. We’ll build smaller with less and adapt our buildings to change. People will be able to put their kitchen together and a porch on their house themselves from parts traded from one household to the next. We’ll get rid of front yards, which are a waste of space, and have our living spaces right on the streets. Buildings like the Columbia tower could be opened up—just take down the outer walls on two or three floors to create open public space for winter gardens or urban agriculture.

We could reinstate natural waterways and let them flow down the streets and into Puget Sound. University Street would be a good one, with a cascade down the Harbor Steps. Devoted car corridors could be reduced—thanks to driverless cars. Drive your car to work and send it back to your wife, or send the kids to soccer games without you. —As told to Brian Colella

Citizen Pilots

By Erik Lindbergh X Prize Foundation Board Member, Founder of Bainbridge Island–Based Lindbergh Electric Airplane Prize, and Grandson of Aviator Charles Lindbergh

The most promising potential in flight is electric propulsion. Once we solve the problem of energy density in batteries—that is, lighter weight batteries with similar power potential of fossil fuels—the possibilities really take off (pun intended).

We’ll be able to go to the local field, what will be called a pocket airport. This is an airport really close to your house, but no one is bothered by it because it doesn’t have giant jets flying in and out, creating noise and pollution. You hop into a quiet, electric-powered aircraft with vertical takeoff capabilities—and simple, single-lever power controls that make it easy for the average person to pilot. We’d fly across Puget Sound and all over the region. In fact, NASA already has a computer animation of what it calls the Puffin, which is a battery-operated, single-person aircraft. It’s pretty cool. And what that does is radically shift the way we think about moving about the planet.

Meanwhile, the commercial possibilities for space travel are huge. As we run out of terrestrial-based resources we could capture minerals from asteroids. And we could manufacture solar cells from lunar regolith—the dust on the moon—and collect energy 24/7 and beam it down to the earth, which has the potential of really reducing our reliance on fossil fuels.

Now all of these things may have issues with them. But there’s promise, theoretically, and we know there are huge problems with oil—we’re spilling oil in all the oceans, the oceans are sick. —As told to James Ross Gardner 

Disease Divination

By Dr. Leroy Hood DNA Sequencing Pioneer and President/Cofounder of the Institute for Systems Biology

The major breakthrough will be a new approach to medicine, which I call P4—predictive, preventive, personalized, and participatory. In 50 years, every human genome will be sequenced. So at birth, medical professionals will look into your genome, make predictions about where you’re going to have disease difficulties, and prescribe for each individual a unique health strategy. Moreover, in 50 years we will have a handheld device that, with a prick of your finger, will measure thousands of blood proteins, access all 50 or so of your major organ systems, and determine whether you are healthy or whether you’re starting to transition into disease.

In terms of optimizing wellness, you may be able to place a piece of tape on your chest that uses sensors to send information to a server and process it in real time. We’ll be able to react instantaneously to feedback and deal with disease at the very earliest stage rather than let it become full blown.

As a result, individuals will be productive and physically fit up until the end of their lives. I can imagine people in their 80s and 90s who are mentally alert, creative, fully productive citizens. That’s going to have incredible implications for society. We’ll have to rethink retirement, because people are going to find their jobs exciting and they are not going to be desperately wanting to retire to play golf. —As told to JRG