My Apple Watch beeps—a coworker on Slack, pointing me to a politician who has set up his own smartphone app. A few minutes later, it buzzes, telling me to stand up; I’ve been sitting too long. Another buzz—a Washington Post push notification informing me that President Donald Trump said something outrageous on Twitter, followed by a reminder to practice mindfulness by breathing; it seems my resting heart rate is too high. 

Imagine writing any of that twenty years ago. 

Then imagine what we’ll write twenty years from now that would make no sense today. 

I’ve been thinking about the future lately. Not flying cars or spaceships, utopias or dystopias, but, in practical terms, what the next two, three, four decades will look like. Think about how the world has changed since 2000: We entered the twenty-first century worried about Y2K. We got 9/11, then Afghanistan and Iraq, then a global financial crisis, then Obamacare, then gay marriage, then Trump. The planet got hotter. The rich got richer. Oh, and: Google, Amazon, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, Tinder, Bumble, Spotify, Netflix, YouTube, YouPorn, 4G, LTE, soon 5G, smart homes, smartphones, smartwatches, tablets, telemedicine, text messaging—instant connectivity to anyone, anywhere, at any time. 

The world of 2020 is more intense, more immediate, more chaotic, more anxious, more interconnected, and—counterintuitively—more isolated than ever before. I expect the world of 2040 will be all of these things, but more so. 

Our republic stands at a dangerous precipice, our country divided along cultural lines, our norms threatened. Despite the Wall Street records, our economy feels fragile after a decade of tepid and uneven growth. I see little cause for optimism, at least in the next decade. 

My Apple Watch is telling me to breathe. 

To the degree that there’s hope, it won’t come from D.C. It will come from places like the Triangle. 

Across the country, cities and metro regions are taking leaps forward on issues like housing and transit and justice reform and equity and smart development and climate change, leading where the federal government—and often state governments—have failed. They’re our centers of culture and innovation and experimentation, and they’re as American as any rural Rust Belt diner a New York Times reporter ever stumbled into. They’re young, diverse, educated, and progressive. 

They are the future. 

In the five years I’ve lived here, the Triangle has seen tremendous change. It’s gotten bigger, taller, busier—more buildings, more businesses, more apartments, more restaurants, more traffic, more development, more everything. And it’s not going to stop—the good or the bad. 

How we deal with it will be the story of the next two decades. 

The INDY’s first issue of the 2020s is dedicated to our future—the Triangle of 2040. We asked policy experts, academics, journalists, activists, and politicians from across the region to imagine how we’ll evolve over the next twenty years—politically and demographically, in cities and housing plans, in media and the arts. 

To be honest, I have no idea what the future holds. But I feel confident that the next two decades are going to be a long, hard slog—a perpetual scrap for every inch of progress. 

Will we be better off two decades from now than we are today? If we are, we’ll have earned it.

2040 Vision: Table of Contents

Part 1: Our State

How Will North Carolina’s Population Change?

What Will North Carolina Politics Look Like?

What Will Education Look Like in North Carolina?

Roy Cooper on Why North Carolina Should Be Hopeful

Part 2: Our Cities

What Will Raleigh Look Like in 2040?

What Will Durham Look Like in 2040?

What Will Chapel Hill Look Like in 2040?

Part 3: Our Region

What Will Local Media Look Like in 2040?

What Will Triangle Housing Look Like in 2040?

What Will Triangle Transit Look Like in 2040?

What Will the Triangle’s Social Justice Movements Look Like in 2040?

What Will the Triangle Look Like for LGBTQ People in 2040?

What Will Arts Education Look Like in the Triangle 20 Years From Now?

What Will the Local Arts Scene Look Like in 2040?

What Will the Triangle’s Food Scene Look Like in 2040?

What Happens When the Robots Take Over?

Contact editor in chief Jeffrey C. Billman at

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