Monday, September 05, 2005

The Luminosity of the Future City

Ever think about the future and what it will look like? I always have. I started out in the 70's imagining a bright happy future with clean sparkling cities as portrayed in the popular future-views of the time. Being a kid, my focus was on the excitement of science and technology. Since then, I learned about the more adult subject of business and of course the treachery and cannibalism that comes with it and my visions darkened.

I have no doubt that technology will continue to advance but I have little faith that it will ever be released from the ever shrinking attention span of investment returns. There is a popular notion that the business world of competing markets will in fact drive technology development at full throttle, but won't that be limited to technology markets that promise quick returns, such as personal accessories, leaving long-term vision technology, such as clean sparkling cities to sway in the vapor of science fiction?

Let's take urban sprawl as an example... There is much discussion in small circles that populations should be concentrated in vertical growth. In other words, 40-storey apartment buildings instead of vast housing tracts that sprawl across the land. This would allow urban centers to pull up their skirts and release the surrounding country back to nature. Although, I think this is a good idea I don't know how such a small group of green people are going to overcome the massive industry that drives urban sprawl. Not as long as urban sprawl yeilds a higher profit margin and carries the weight and momentum of a huge industry involving developers, investors, construction firms, all synchronized into a machine that crashes the local politics and general plans of just about any city it wants.

Urban sprawl even conditions our culture, to where younger people are becoming much more connected with urban developments than they are with nature. When young people look at open fields they see weeds, feel boredom, when they drive into an urban development, they see shops and restaurants and their eyes light up because they see things that they can connect to. So even though they would be fine in a vertical urban development, they possess no burning desire to save nature either, so for them either way will work.

On the other hand, suburban homeowners tend to like the idea of owning as much personal space as possible which makes the urban sprawl a more attractive option. The residents of your average suburban city are often divided between those, usually older folks that want to keep progress checked and those, usually younger folks who actually encourage the development thinking that it will improve their lives and increase the value of their property.

So with all this commerical and cultural weight on the side of urban sprawl how will these green visions ever be realized? How will the optimistic futurists ever connect to the reality machine? How will the clean sparkling city of the future ever be real?