Published here November 2018


Musings Index

Accurate Forecasting of the Future

The other day I was rummaging through some of my old project management records and came across an interesting set of 18 papers under the title "Probing the Future". These papers were published in McGraw Hill's Construction Weekly: Engineering News-Record. But rather than commenting at this point, I'll let the record speak for itself. Some of the most interesting observations are, with a little editing for continuity, extracted and reproduced below.

Probing the Future — Preface
by Arthur J. Fox, Jr., Editor

The editors of Engineering News-Record have written Probing The Future in celebration of the magazine's Centennial. In the following articles, they offer a picture of what's ahead in the world, and in space beyond — for those with responsibilities for the man-made world. This is a reporting job, not an exercise in crystal ball gazing. It is the result of research and interviewing done over l6 months by l6 present and former members of ENR's editorial staff, and by McGraw-Hill World News reporters on six continents.

It represents a journalistic effort that took its writers to hundreds of industry sources and to many sources not reached in their normal occupation of covering the news of construction. The result, Probing The Future, is intended as a piece of serious writing. It is aimed to serve all in construction and anyone outside the industry who is concerned with its impact on the economy, and the environmental or societal problems generally.

Subjects chosen for study are considered to be the areas of real concern to construction — the city, housing, water, energy, transportation, and so on. Most of the subjects were assigned to ENR staff members who have written on them for some years. This is so that their reporting of what the futurists are thinking and saying might be as interpretive as possible.

The temptation to celebrate 100 years of publication with a solely historical review was easily resisted. It is the future, not the past, that is man's prime concern. The past can't be changed; the future can. For among the readers of ENR are the leaders of this largest single industry — construction. And it is they who can make the decisions to affect, or to prevent, or to profit from what is foretold here.

It is especially hoped that those with the greatest stake in the future — younger readers, including students still preparing to enter this industry — will be attracted to this text and caused to think about what it tells them.

2000 and Beyond
by Joseph F. Wilkinson

Construction and change have been partners since the dawning of human intelligence. Construction brings about change. Change brings about construction. Construction has led the way for the development of mankind, taming the Earth, exploiting its materials and harnessing its energies.

The change in early man from hunter to farmer was the first step toward construction of the world's cities. Urbanization led to commerce and industry, which needed construction for transportation, shelter and energy. Change is the very breath of life for construction. Without changes in population, energy, materials, manufacturing, transportation, food, shelter, recreation — and changes in construction, too — this huge industry would barely exist.

Population pressures

Next to human Intelligence, the greatest force for change is human fertility. Earth has been compared to an immense spaceship equipped with finite supplies for its seemingly endless orbit of the Sun. The gloomiest prediction is that over the next century, population growth, if not stopped, will sweep humanity into disaster from mass starvation, exhaustion of resources, and collapse of industry, or over pollution and breakdown of health services. The optimists argue that man's ingenuity will continue to solve the problems that population growth presents.

Another force for change and for construction throughout the world is increasing affluence. Yesterday's luxuries become tomorrow's essentials. Spreading affluence means construction of more and more factories, office buildings, homes, stores, stadiums, water systems, hospitals, power plants, and streets. We are consolidating even faster than we are increasing. In this century we have seen a worldwide trend of population shift from farms and villages to metropolitan areas.

To cope with this will mean construction of nearly the equivalent of what exists today to accommodate the additional urban population. By 2000, about 140,000 square miles will have to be paved or built upon. It will mean bigger and more expensive transportation facilities, power supplies, water supplies, housing, sewage treatment plants and waste disposal systems.

The rising cost of land, particularly urban land, will lead to more and more multiuse high-rise structures. Buildings of 100 stories will be commonplace and 150 to 200-story structures will not be unusual. Increasingly, these buildings will become communities in their own right containing, not only apartments, but offices, shops, and restaurants.

My observations

Reading the foregoing, it seems to me to be a good description of where we are today in 2018. As the editor of the series observes at the beginning, these statements and predictions are the result of research and interviewing by ENR's present or former staff members done over l6 months on six continents. The authors of these thoughts, and subsequent ones that follow, are to be congratulated for their surprisingly accurate predictions. I feel they are very representative of where we are today (2018).

And those papers were published in April 1974 — that's close to half a century ago. That shows that reliable forecasting can be done if sufficient and appropriate resources are dedicated to the effort.

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