Following on from my last blog ‘Where is society going? What will the future look like?’ I’ve done some thinking and a little digging. Apparantly, by the middle of this century it is estimated that 75% of the world’s population could be living in cities. To me throws up a whole bag load of issues, of which building those cities is the easy bit. Now I’m not a planner architect or designer, I’m author of sci-fi – interested in what alternatives that presents me as a writer in those future lives. Also, as always in my blogs, I’m looking to open a discussion. I accept I’m more likely to throw out problems than solutions. But as well as learning what is possible I am also looking for the original, the way out, the fantastic. But then, if we can imagine it, who knows?
As a writer I can imagine cities built on other worlds far in the future, which can learn from what has gone before and be built in the light of the modern technology of the time, whatever that is. But if we project just hundreds of years into the future we don’t have that luxury. Most of our cities are built on patterns laid down centuries ago, so the city of now, built on the past, will have to adapt.
I know many others, much better qualified than me, are looking into this and I hope you’ll point me in the direction of some good articles. One I found in the Mail online for 31st March 2014 which I retweeted, http://dailym.ai/1dGrSmY, suggests we could have vertical farms to help provide the food our growing cities would need. Also that trees could be made to glow with the use of biophosphorescent genes and pavements and other structures could be sprayed to glow in the dark to provide lighting and reduce energy needs. Fantasty? Growing plants on vertical surfaces is already happening and gene splicing technology is also possible. But this of course is just chipping at the edge of the problems we’ll face. Not least of course providing the accommodation, with all the infra structure and social issues that go with it.
For accommodation, ‘the only way is up’. So those fantastical cityscapes of scifi art and film are perhaps not that fantastical after all. However, you don’t have to be a genius see the potential conflicts. No-one wants a repeat of the high rise blocks created in the 1960’s, although we should remember that at the time they were seen as an innovative solution to the housing problem. I guess we need to understand why some turned into concrete ghettos. Since the 1960’s there has been something of a reaction against high rise living, except perhaps, those that live in the prime locations with the incomes to match. So the plans that London already has for at least 250 new high rise developments is likely to meet some opposition, but I can’t see an alternative.
I guess if you’re living there by choice with a good income, rather than being put there as part of a resolution to a problem it should be different, shouldn’t it? If you have the money, you wouldn’t feel stuck there, isolated, or would you? There’s a lot of talk about ‘creating a community’ as the magical solution, but then so there was in the 1960’s. Perhaps ,there are particular problems with the idea of a vertical community? Maybe as human beings with millions of years of looking across at the next dwelling etc. with our ‘friends’ on the same level as us both socially and physically that’s our default preference . Those rows of terraced houses, where everyone was in and out of each other’s front doors and no one locked them (or so we’re told) were lived in by people who lived, worked, went to school with, socialised with, were often in the same extended families with, everyone around them. In these new vertical cities that is not going to be the case, and not being able to see your neighbours is only going to add to the ‘not knowing who the hell they are.’ I think it is going to take a lot of effort to achieve any sense of community in such circumstances.
Bottom line, perhaps it isn’t that easy to think vertically. Gut reaction conveys status to being above or below someone. I don’t think any amount of clever lighting or vertical gardens are going to solve that. In the film Blade Runner (and yes that is going back some) the high rise city of the future is seen as a pretty soulless place. We’re going to have to work hard if that is not to become a reality.
Please feel free to disagree with me.