Honk! City of the Future? (Have a stupid weekend)

We here at World Streets always have problems with “cities of the future” visions, not so much because they are almost always consistently wacky in some totally weird unreal-world way, but because they tend to project things so far into the distant, almost always thoroughly magical future, that they get us off the hook for doing anything about it TODAY. So sit back and relax, dear citizens and voters, and let the benevolent forces of the economy and technology solve the problem for you. Hmm.

Again this background, and for your weekend viewing pleasure, we are pleased to share with you this excellent drawing of a future city which has been kindly sent along today by Mike Co of the Clean Air Initiative for our contemplation (see his note http://cleanairinitiative.org/portal/node/4763).

And since the underlying text is a bit difficult to read, here is what the authors had to say back in 1925 about their future cities, only 25 years out:

How you may live and travel in the city of 1950.
“Future city streets, says Mr. Corbett, will be in four levels: The top level for pedestrians; the next lower level for slow motor traffic; the next for fast motor traffic, and the lowest for electric trains. Great blocks of terraced skyscrapers half a mile high will house offices, schools, homes, and playgrounds in successive levels, while the roofs will be airplane landing fields, according to the architect’s plan.”

Haw haw. Well perhaps not. When was the last time you checked out Dubai?

And since bad ideas die hard, let’s have a look at the latest issue of that same journal (now somehow appropriately relabeled “Popscicom”), where this time they offer up their vision of “The plan for tomorrow’s mega city, which they currently target 2030.

Here, we the innocent readers are told, “We present the most visionary ideas by scientists, engineers and designers to make the cities of the future what they were meant to be all along: sustainable”. To which they add in their transportation vision “an eco-savvy blueprint that points the way to fresh air, clean water, and traffic that never jams”.

You can check it out at http://www.popsci.com/futurecity/home2.html, where you will see that their future city’s transportation system keys on the marvels of MIT’s PodCar, driverless buses, energy highways (“Save energy by driving faster” – nice!). and – whoopee – PRT in the form of “Maglev Skytrains”. (“Le plus ça change, le plus c’est la même chose”, translating roughly to “will they never learn?”

After a summer weekend of marvel, we can get back to the serous work at hand on Monday morning.

Eric Britton, Editor

PS. And should you be coming to Paris in the next month, there is an exhibit in the Centre Pompidou entitled “Dreamlands” which in my view is no less unpleasant than either of the above but which may be worth a visit nonetheless. The basic idea is set out in these words from the exhibit program which you can view at

“The dreamlands of the leisure society have shaped the imagination, nourishing both utopian dreams and artistic productions. But they have also become realities : the pastiche, the copy, the artificial and the fictive have become facts of the environment in which real life is led, and they serve as models for understanding and planning the urban fabric and its social life, blurring the boundaries between imagination and reality.”

Scary stuff! Come visit.

* For more Stupid Weekend reading, click here.

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About the editor:

Eric Britton
9, rue Gabillot, 69003 Lyon France

Bio: Educated as an international development economist, Eric Britton is an American political scientist, teacher and sustainability activist who has worked on missions and advisory assignments on all continents. Professor of Sustainable Development, Economy and Democracy at the Institut Supérieur de Gestion (Paris), he is also MD of EcoPlan Association, an independent advisory network providing strategic counsel for government and business on policy and decision issues involving complex systems, social-technical change, civil society and sustainable development. Founding editor of World Streets: The Politics of Transport in Cities | See Britton online at https://goo.gl/9CJXTh and @ericbritton

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4 thoughts on “Honk! City of the Future? (Have a stupid weekend)

  1. Forecasts, especially those concerning the future, are always a bit dubious. But at least someone took a stand saying this is how I see it. If enough people imagine things in a certain way it makes the transition from imagination to reality that much easier… What future would you have us imagine kind sir?

  2. I guess I don’t see how the 1925 vision was all that outlandish, aside from the rooftop airports and “half-mile high” scale. What I see is: high urban density; pedestrian-only surface streets; subways; automated freight movement.

    Then again, I don’t have a hand covering my eyes.

  3. Dreamlands is fun enough, playful if crass, corrupt and clichéd. Its main contribution is that it present a tawdry compendium of negative examples of exactly what not to do. (Pity that the weakest link was the portion of the exhibit given over to the nightmareland that is Dubai.)

    As two the other two hapless clown visions of the city transport future, the truth is that what they are hawking is knuckleheaded, dunderheaded, and dangerous. (Yes, I consider Corbu’s future visions dangerous too since he was in a potion to influence a great many people, including those in positions of authority.) It may be OK for kids and cranks, but when we are in the domain of public policy, these folks are very poor students indeed.

    You talk about these future visions as “forecasts”, but no they are not. They are wacky unthoughtout comic book views of the future. When we talk about the future, we use many words to characterize or give a flavor of what we have in mind. Here’s a handful: Projection. Prognosis. Prediction. Prophesy. Dream. Scenario. Forecast. Backcast. Delphi. Vision. Foretelling. Plan. And of course each of these refers to a very different bale of techniques and objectives.

    Look, I like craziness a lot. I realize that we need to use our imaginations since the future must be very different. It’s just that these particular guys are so very bad at it.


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