In the year 2118, when the Fort Smith time capsule behind the Bass Reeves statue at Ross Pendergraft Park is unearthed, the city will look quite a bit different than it does in the summer of 2018.
Pending no apocalyptic events that unravel the threads of society, there are high hopes the future of both Fort Smith and the United States is both healthier and more environmentally conscience.
“I think we’ll not only be leaner around here, we’ll be greener,” University of Arkansas at Fort Smith history professor Billy Higgins said.
The two ideals go hand in hand. A more walkable city with trails for bikes invites healthy lifestyles.
According to a recent Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index, Fort Smith has one of the highest incidence rates of adults who have experienced a heart attack during their lifetime. It is 7.1 percent. The lowest is Boulder, Colo., at 1.3 percent.
John Cooley, chairman of the Future Fort Smith Committee, recently expressed an overall goal of the group of encouraging the city to become more health conscience. Many other local groups have the same goal, including a partnership between Antioch for Youth & Family and Harps Foods, as the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce, Sparks Regional Medical Center and Mercy Fort Smith.
“People will put two and two together and want to take care of their health throughout their life,” Higgins said.
A Future Fort Smith Committee member, Paula Lender, also recently made the first potential Fort Smith Comprehensive Plan addendum suggestion when she submitted an “energy action plan” to the committee. Along with solid waste tracking, the plan calls for clean energy goals like LEED certification for new construction or retrofitting older buildings.
Higgins, who has written three books on the history of Fort Smith, is also a member of the Hardwood Tree Museum under development at Chaffee Crossing and foresees a future with more large buildings constructed out of timber instead of concrete and steel. The University of Arkansas’ Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design, and the Arkansas Forest Resources Center in the UA System Division of Agriculture just this year received a nearly $250,000 grant from the U.S. Forest Service to build a dorm out of cross-laminated timber (CLT) or nail-laminated timber (NTL) based system. As pointed out by U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, the only forester in Congress, this method absorbs more carbon that it creates.
Higgins also foresees a future Fort Smith that is less reliant on automobiles as we know them today, and a turn away from franchise foods.
In addition to recent initiatives by the nonprofit group Downtown 64.6 to create a form-based code — doing away with the requirement of two vehicle parking spaces per residential unit — the Fort Smith Central Business Improvement District Commission has called for a rebuild of Garrison Avenue downtown as more walkable boulevard with trees and greenspace in the middle to make it more inviting and slow down traffic.
For the past several years there has been a movement to build more biking and walking trails around the city. The city has yet to make sidewalks along all of Rogers Avenue, the main east-west thoroughfare through the city. Driverless trucks, operating at night when most people are asleep, with drones flying in materials to a transportation hub at Chaffee Crossing are also ideas from Higgins. The Arkansas River, he added, will also continue to offer opportunities to Fort Smith that are not available to faster-growing areas of the state.
Taking a cue from naturalist John Muir, who helped President Theodore Roosevelt set aside land as national parks in the early 20th century, Higgins noted that people in the future will continue to seek nature to "satisfy the soul."
The future of Fort Smith will also include more bilingual, or even trilingual, citizens. Higgins expects there to be 55 states in the nation by 2118, and an economic system that provides a living minimum wage.