The year we have just entered sounds futuristic and hip. Mathematicians must be overjoyed, numerologists ecstatic.
The last double number year was 1919, right after the end of World War I and in the midst of the great flu pandemic. Baseball fans know it as the year of the “Black Sox” scandal, when eight Chicago White Sox players threw the World Series and were banned from baseball. It was the year the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees – launching the “Curse of the Bambino.” While 2020 sounds like it might be a lucky number, 1919 definitely was not. The best thing about 1919 was that it gave way to the roaring ‘20s.
Years seldom stand alone. The 20th century probably had three that are remembered for themselves, apart from their decades: 1917, 1945 and 1968. So the chances that 2020 is a year for the ages is unlikely.
Decades, however, are another matter. We tend to make sense of them in hindsight for their overall characteristics.
In the United States, the 1950s were years of calm and rapid economic expansion, along with civil rights discord. The 1960s were years of strife on all fronts: a major war, three devastating political assassinations, campus protests, race riots and the explosion of the drug culture.
The ‘70s were malaise, record inflation and the resignation of President Richard Nixon. The ‘80s started with a severe economic recession, but ended with a booming economy that lasted throughout most of the ‘90s. They were years of relative peace and prosperity. The 2000s were 9/11, our response to an increased terrorist threat and the great financial meltdown of 2008.
The decade we just finished is still too fresh to fully analyze.
Though the economy is booming now, for most of the 2010s economic growth was slow as we struggled to recover from the financial crisis. Perhaps the 2010s will be remembered as the decade of political anger, which began with Obamacare, the subsequent rise of the tea party and the Republican landslide in the 2010 elections and ended with President Donald Trump and the Democratic landslide in the 2018 mid-term elections. Or perhaps the 2010s will be recalled for seemingly incessant mass shootings. Or maybe for the opioid crisis.
What will the decade of the 2020s bring, both in our country and city?
Nationally, a lessening of our partisan divide seems unlikely. Though most Americans say they want less political toxicity, strife fuels the political and influence-making power of many, leading them to continue throwing fuel on the fire.
One thing is sure: Technological advances, particularly in the realm of artificial intelligence, will continue reshaping the way we live in the 2020s. But questions abound: Will our current economic prosperity last? Will we avoid a new major war? Will another decade pass without the use of atomic weapons? Will we avoid a climate catastrophe?
In Alexandria, the decade of the 2010s also ended on a particularly discordant note, with many contentious issues dividing our city. Disturbingly, age seemed to be a fault line, with a majority of older residents resisting changes being made, while younger residents embraced a transformation of our city.
Because Alexandria’s tax base skewed so heavily to residential over commercial development after the financial meltdown, our city leaders have swung the pendulum far the other way, taking advantage of the strong economy to launch as much economic development as possible. Rapid development has been prioritized over everything else, including protecting the environment.
Will the 2020s be remembered in Alexandria for mass flooding, making our destruction of wetlands and overbuilding seem short-sighted? Will the North Old Town arts district turn Alexandria into an arts destination this decade? Will the Amazon/Virginia Tech campuses transform our city into something unrecognizable?
Alexandrians, hold onto your hats, because for better or for worse, the 2020s are unlikely to be dull.