If predicting the future is, as economist Jeremy Aguero told us in 2010, “a Sisyphean task,” the weird thing about reviewing your old predictions is that now you’ve kind of become your own stone, rolling back on the Sisyphean you who did all that forward thinking years before.
As longtime readers might recall, the issue of January-February 2010 saw us round up some of the valley’s best writers and mover-shakers for a package we called “2020 visions” — 19 pages of crystal-ball gazings, entrail readings, and geysers of speculative optimism about the possible state of the city a decade hence. You have to hand it to Sisyphus. That would have been a ballsy and ambitious undertaking even if there hadn’t been a recession and foreclosure crisis complicating the view.
Enthusiasm in the face of instability was even more deeply embedded in “Art optimism,” a sprawling feature we ran a few months earlier, in September-October 2009. The editors followed their list of recession-driven blows to the cultural community with this frank admission: “We decided that things had gotten so bad that we should resort to optimism.” Then we enumerated 25 reasons to be hopeful.
Now we’re three-quarters of the way from 2010 to 2020, and, as Desert Companion finds itself contemplating a different 10-year time frame — our existence as a magazine — it seems like a good time to examine our foresight with the benefit of hindsight.
Turns out we were right about some things: the growing clout of the Hispanic community; the mad skills of artists Lance Smith and Brian Porray; the success of The Smith Center; the post-recession rebound of the Strip. Good job, us!
We were wrong about some, too: the cultural institutions (Contemporary Arts Center) and spaces (Henri & Odette gallery) that would survive as engines of the arts scene; residential development at Symphony Park; how Nevada “could lead the national transition to a new era of population and economic stability based on a shift to locally available renewable energy and sustainable resource use”; that “voters will approve property-tax increases to fund schools”; that the Clark County School District would be replaced “by several smaller districts, some of them privatized.” (Almost!)
For a few, of course, it’s still too early to make a call: “I’m betting that yet another period of wild and crazy American self-indulgence will kick off right around 2020 ... for which Las Vegas will once again be the in-sync epicenter.” The bottle-service industrial complex will be glad to hear that.
But, fun as it is, scorecarding our hits and misses is only part of the point here. What really jumped out at us as we reviewed those earlier features was a spirit common to both. Dealing with the future, whether you’re predicting it, as in “20/20 visions,” or calibrating your attitude toward it, as in “Art optimism,” requires an act of civic imagination. Creatively extrapolating the now into the then. Turns out we did so based on the strength of what’s best about this city. No one grounded their future vision on, say, a cynical view of local politics, however tempting that must’ve been, or on how sucky the traffic would be, or on a decline in cultural resources. From water to energy to business to the arts, everyone assumed that the future would be shaped by the city’s manifold upsides, not limited by its downsides. If that idealism led to a bit of naïve overreach here and there — one contributor predicted finger-crossingly that race would dwindle as a major element in civic affairs by 2020 — well, we do share with Sisyphus a certain necessary belief that the bleeping rock will eventually go over the bleeping hill. If Peter Drucker is right that the only way to predict the future is to create it, surely the first step is to envision it the way you want it to be. So, whatever the next 10 years brings us, Desert Companion will always be ready to resort to optimism.