Looking ahead to the Inland Empire in the year 2048

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A more densely populated urban community in a more arid region

BEAU YARBROUGH | CONTRIBUTOR

Twenty five years from now, the Inland Empire will be home to more than 5 million people. They will likely be surrounded by mountains that rarely see snow, and clustered more densely into downtowns near shops and mass transit. By 2048, the region will have weathered another pandemic, but nothing so severe as the long-ago coronavirus pandemic of 2020. The logistics industry will likewise have peaked in the Inland Empire decades before, but manufacturing, driven in large part by automation, will likely be part of the jobs landscape once again. And even white collar jobs will look different, as artificial intelligence is as much a part of everyday life as smartphones were 25 years before. That’s the picture that emerges from a year of interviews with experts about what the Inland Empire will look like in 25 years, in the year 2048.

Continuing rapid growth

By 2048, Riverside and San Bernardino counties are expected to have a combined 5,692,922 residents, according to the California Department of Finance, up from 4,723,216 residents in 2023. Southern California’s millennials and Generation Z are expected to flock to the Inland Empire to to raise their families, causing the region to grow about twice as fast as the rest of Southern California as a result. “The Inland Empire will be where the action will be, as the population will be there, the buying power will be there,” said Kome Ajise, executive director of the Southern California Association of Governments. Almost a third of California’s growth over the next 25 years will occur in the Inland Empire alone, according to Department of Finance projections.

More urban, more densely populated

Although the single-family houses that have attracted residents to the Inland Empire for decades will still be around, according to experts, housing in the region will typically be more densely packed together in townhouses, apartments and condominiums. “The lines between multifamily and single family will blur,” said developer Randall Lewis, executive vice president of Upland-based Lewis Management Corp. Planned mixed-use developments in downtown Riverside, San Bernardino, Redlands and elsewhere will have people living and working near restaurants, shops and mass transit hubs. A growing population — and the likely continuing inability of Los Angeles County to meet demand for affordable housing — will be driving this push for density, along with insurance companies raising rates in Inland foothills and desert regions as wildfires and flash floods become more of a problem as the region’s climate heats up.

Climate change

By 2048, the Mediterranean climate of the Inland Empire will have long since been replaced by something more resembling the climate of Phoenix or Las Vegas today. “I think we need to get used to living on a planet that is not the planet we grew up on,” said Char Miller, a professor of environmental analysis and history at Pomona College. Expect at least 30 days a year where temperatures exceed 102 degrees Fahrenheit, up from an average of seven days a year between 1985 and 2005, more heat waves and less relief at night, less snow pack and longer-lasting droughts, experts say. Massive storms that bring blizzards or flash floods will still sometimes happen — hotter air can absorb more moisture — but changing weather patterns will mean they’ll be much less predictable. And agriculture will need to switch to crops that require less water and are more tolerant of higher temperatures, Miller said, as more water alone will not save crops that evolved in cooler, wetter climates than the Inland Empire of 2048.

Automation and artificial intelligence

By 2048, automation and artificial intelligence will have helped to shape the economy, with almost two-thirds of jobs being affected by it, according to a University of Redlands study. The logistics industry, which today makes up about 13% of all jobs in the Inland Empire, will largely be automated, according to University of Redlands professor Johannes Moenius. Artificial intelligence will be coming for white collar jobs, meanwhile, impacting everyone from radiologists to lawyers providing routine legal services to entry level accountants. Data processing jobs and customer service representatives will likely be handled by artificial intelligence.

Future pandemics

A generation will have grown up since the coronavirus pandemic of 2020. Residents of 2048 will likely have weathered at least one more pandemic, experts say, likely caused by humans encroaching into areas once the habitat of animals, but it’s unlikely to have been anywhere near as serious as the COVID-19 pandemic. “We are not alone on this planet and we need to figure out how to share our environment with all the other species,” said Dr. Timothy Brewer, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at UCLA. “The more that we encroach on others’ habitats, the more likely we are to encounter something we haven’t seen before.”

Political polarization

The political polarization of 2023 will likely continue in 2048, at least among older generations. “I look at the trend lines over the last couple of decades, and I see polarization accelerating along with the forces driving the polarization,” said Kamy Akhavan, the executive director of the University of Southern California’s Dornsife College Center For Political Future. “The idea of some sort of realignment seems less realistic.” But younger generations, currently known as Generation Z and Generation Alpha, are less tribal in their politics, and more focused on issues, rather than party affiliation or individual politicians. “The hope is that democracies can work through these things, even in tough times,” said Kevin Esterling, a professor of public policy and political science at UC Riverside, and the director of the university’s Laboratory for Technology, Communication and Democracy. “Maybe the fever breaks and people realize they don’t want to live like that any more.” We’ll see in 25 years.

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