April 27, 2008
By Marc Fisher
THINK BACK TO JANUARY 1991: The Web, e-mail, cellphones — all virtually unknown. The three networks still mattered. The Soviet Union still existed. Downtown Bethesda was barely worthy of the name. There was no Dulles Town Center, no Verizon Center, no Green Line. The Redskins played at RFK. A lot can change in 17 years. On the other hand, the Washington area road system was largely identical to what it is today. Madonna was already Madonna. The Wizards — okay, the Bullets — were already cursed. We had long since passed Orwell’s dystopia date but hadn’t yet partied like it was 1999. It hadn’t yet occurred to us to panic about a Y2K disaster.
So, looking 17 years into the future is a daunting task. We studied reams of reports on the region’s future, convened two panels of experts on everything from shopping to energy policy, and we found unanimity on only one point: In 2025, the haves will have more. The have-nots won’t. As for everything else about the next phase of history, we reached enough consensus to spin out two separate, even conflicting, fictional scenarios — views of life as it might be 17 years hence from the perspective of two Washington area families, one thriving and the other struggling. See the linked footnotes for some of the reporting behind the fiction.