For people who run governments and businesses—not to mention those who run households—the key questions about our region’s future are pretty constant: Where will real estate be most in demand? How are residents going to get around? What kind of jobs will they have?
The prevailing predictions might surprise you.
Picture nearly 900,000 people living in the District, for instance. Or the population doubling in no-longer-all-that-distant exurbs like Stafford County. Or urban neighborhoods cropping up in Rockville. These are bullish trend lines, no doubt, and whether they pan out depends on harder-to-predict things such as the future of the federal budget, what will happen to the water level, and the whims of taste. But if a crystal-ball image of Washington in a half century seems hard to imagine, it’s worth recalling just how young the area’s current shape really is: It was just last year, after all, that the Beltway—that defining piece of 20th-century geography—turned 50.
Here’s our look at the forces that will shape the region over the next few decades, and some guesses as to what kind of place they’ll leave behind.