Megacities on the move
June 26, 2011 5:53 PM   Subscribe

Forum for the Future, a UK-based non-profit, has produced a series of short videos depicting possible future scenarios for sustainable urban mobility. Titled "Megacities on the move," the series explores "how we will live and travel in the cities of 2040". The four scenarios are (links to Vimeo): Planned-opolis , Communi-city, Renew-abad, and Sprawl-ville. posted by thescientificmethhead (22 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Even the Sprawl-ville as depicted has greater density, heterogeneity, and visual interest than the sprawlville I'm surrounded by. *sadface*
posted by tapesonthefloor at 6:14 PM on June 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Shoot, I thought this was going to be a post on mobile cities, a la Christopher Priest's Inverted World, the flying cities of Blish, the floating and train cities of Mieville, etc.
posted by chortly at 7:19 PM on June 26, 2011

chortly: there is a reference to "floating cities" in the Planned-opolis video.
posted by thescientificmethhead at 7:33 PM on June 26, 2011

I so wish I could be Vee's big date. *pout* Future girls are GO!
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 8:19 PM on June 26, 2011

We're headed straight for Sprawl-ville, aren't we. Y'know, it's interesting how we can see trends and predict the future, but somehow we still can't avoid bad outcomes that no one really wants. It's like there's some immutable force pulling our societies toward certain end-points, regardless of the desires of anybody involved, like with evolution and climax communities.

In my city the government has made some interesting decisions lately that go against this trend. After decades of argument they've finally decided to close down the Municipal Airport and build a new inner city community that's supposed to become a model of urban development a little bit like Renew-abad. Everything based around public transit, with apartments and townhouses instead of detached housing, artificial lakes and parks, geothermal heating, and so on. It sounds amazing futuristic and completely unlike the dozens of conventional car-friendly suburbs we already have.

So what do people think of this? If you go by the letters in the paper, they seem to think it's a waste of money. There was one letter today that talked about how he didn't like the "maelstrom of regulation" involved in planning a community from the top down, and would prefer to see the project sold to individual developers who could do what they liked with their separate parcels. And there's always lots of complaints about roads. If the city was run by direct democracy I think we'd put 90% of the budget into building and maintaining roads, because that's what most people are obsessed with. Sprawl-ville.
posted by Kevin Street at 8:46 PM on June 26, 2011

Things I want:

1) Coworking spaces with the kind of uber-expensive videoconferencing systems that big corporations have today. These systems are REALLY REALLY good, they have virtually eliminated business travel in many companies. Today I drive 20 miles to spend all day in videoconference meetings with people all over the world. I'd love to do that from home, but given the sorry state of US broadband I'd settle for biking or walking a mile or two to my local coworking space instead.

2) Taxi buses. You register your commute with the transit agency, it uses algorithms to find optimal transit routes that get everyone to work exactly on time without waiting or transfers. Big school districts do exactly this (students never have to transfer buses), why can't commuters get it too?

3) Some kind of enclosed electric trike that is small enough to be legal for bike trails. I have had a number of 10-15 mile bike trail commutes, but here in Minneapolis weather often makes biking pretty unpleasant. I'd love to use the bike trails in the summer without getting drenched in sweat, and in the winter or during rainstorms without the danger of sliding to my doom.
posted by miyabo at 9:09 PM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

We're headed straight for Sprawl-ville, aren't we. Y'know, it's interesting how we can see trends and predict the future, but somehow we still can't avoid bad outcomes that no one really wants.

Sprawl-ville is highly lucrative in the short-term for precisely the group of people who are doing most of the steering for all of us these days. It's really just time to grab back the wheel. And stop using motorized vehicle metaphors. And stop using periods between sentence fragments. And so on.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 9:59 PM on June 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

I wonder if the future in some places might involve transitioning from one scenario to another. For example, most North American cities are heading for Sprawl-ville, but that's obviously not sustainable. Something will eventually break or give way, and the city (or the viable parts of it, like downtown Detroit) will mutate into into Communi-city. (Not by choice, but out of pure necessity.) Then time goes by, all those grumbling burb dwellers who miss the past die off, and the city shades into Renew-abad. A sustainable climax community.
posted by Kevin Street at 10:22 PM on June 26, 2011

Pretty much a 4-way dystopia. There are elements from each that are attractive, but more that are disagreeable. Hasn't anybody got a vision that offers a better way of life without sacrificing liberty? I'm not suggesting that our way of life cannot be compromised, but why does better public transport equate to big brother? Surely there can be an option where individuals can choose how to apportion their wealth, choosing to live in a nice neighbourhood and eat meat, by foregoing a car - but doing it through choice not not government coercion.
posted by bystander at 11:42 PM on June 26, 2011

I think that was the idea behind Communi-city. It's a "jumble of neighborhoods" where people live in the area that suits them, then use individual transport to get around. It's all cars and roads, but they're electric or biofuel powered vehicles personalized to each owner's taste. Sort of like Sprawl-ville, but without the dependence on fossil fuels and rich elites.
posted by Kevin Street at 11:56 PM on June 26, 2011

So if you wanted to live in a nice neighborhood with public transport and restaurants that served meat, you could move there, or try to change your current community into that one by direct democracy. Presumably the most popular and sustainable (ie cheap) lifestyles would proliferate and be copied by the majority of neighborhoods. That is, there'd be a sweet spot somewhere between energy intensive living and sustainability, and that would become the norm over time.
posted by Kevin Street at 12:08 AM on June 27, 2011

Freedom is never having to go back to get your car, and never having to worry about auto repairs or insurance, or gas. And, don't forget, not having to turn down a beer because you have to drive home.
posted by Goofyy at 2:44 AM on June 27, 2011

Hasn't anybody got a vision that offers a better way of life without sacrificing liberty?

What kind of liberty do you mean? The freedom to... ?

The Renew-abad one seemed pretty good to me. The drawback was the people in 'old' industries who weren't taken care of properly in the transition, but you'd hope that's not a permanent problem for them. I didn't see anything in there about not being able to make choices or not eat meat. The public transport looked nice (I'd love to be able to do work or shopping on the train).

Plus, it's hard to make a sustainable choice if corporations don't offer them. Our city has land developers given heaps of column inches in the daily newspaper so they can complain about how the government doesn't want them building so many McMansions (only 50% of our population is a family unit, the rest are DINKS and empty nesters), and how annoying it is to have to leave space for wetlands or endangered animals. They're not going to move in a sustainable direction until they're forced to do so.
posted by harriet vane at 3:37 AM on June 27, 2011

Interesting videos, although every single one of them seemed to feature large, marginalised populations in shanty towns or 'non-compliance' zones or the like. I'd be interested to see a story about someone living there, given that is likely to be the fate of very large chunks of humanity.
posted by Happy Dave at 3:53 AM on June 27, 2011

Yeah, Communi-city is probably the closest scenario to what's going to happen, apart from the ludicrous geodesic domes and the complete abnegation of public transport.

Self-driving cars, the first models of which will probably put in appearance in the next couple of years, are going to dramatically reduce the energy requirements of personal transport - what's the point of splurging on the big V-8 when you'll never feel that power under your control?

Larger minivan-style vehicles will be the norm, living rooms on wheels, but made from modern lightweight composites, and powered by dinky little hybrid systems - just enough oomph to get up to highway speed with a load of passengers. Carmakers will compete on creature comforts, reliability and efficiency. You better damn well believe Bubba will give up his pickup truck if it means he'll get to play videogames or watch TV on the way to work.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:50 AM on June 27, 2011

miyabo, your #1 and #2 are pretty close to what I see happening; though maybe not in the way you are picturing. I can pretty easily conceptualize a near future where, pushed by environmentalists on one side and corporate marketing teams on the other (though the two will increasingly be hard to distinguish as corporations catch on), the majority of middle/upper class populations spend a huge amount of their time in virtual communication with each other and with weak AIs. As VR tech improves, this kind of 'plugged in' lifestyle will be seductive on many levels; businesspeople will have to stay connected all of the time to be competitive, kids will have to stay connected to learn and socialize, and huge segments of the population will WANT to be connected all of the time to take part in the incredible virtual experiences available 'online' (if you think WoW is addictive now, wait until you can't distinguish it from reality...). Rights to privacy and self determination, or our worries about 'big brother', will shift from the physical side to the virtual.

The physical bodies of this class could easily be housed in small, utilitarian, and extremely efficient apartments. Bland surroundings and tasteless food will be easily palatable because you won't have to be consciously aware of your physical surroundings. Most bodily functions, exercise, etc. could be controlled automatically once we can disconnect control of the body from the brain, freeing it up for seamless virtual experience. Physical transport of our bodies, when one needs to, will involve little more (from the user's perspective) than 'pulling up a menu' and 'clicking' on a destination (or whatever the equivalent UI might be). Computerized electric vehicles will take care of the rest (or our legs if the destination is close enough).

This kind of 'city' would be a triumph in terms of energy efficiency and the ability to sell (virtual) shit to people; and mean that 'drudge' jobs like cleaning or factory work (not that there will be anywhere near the need as their is today) could be automated WITHOUT relying on energy/mineral/oil intensive robots...just let the computer take control of those wonderfully engineered human bodies.

Think of it as a step between the iPhone and the 'brain in a vat'. VR tech (and public acceptance) might not be there by 2040, but I honestly wouldn't be too surprised if Apple or Google was thinking (or dreaming) along these lines. Microsoft is on the right track with its video game investments/r&d.

tl;dr we will join the corporate sponsored 'Matrix' to escape the shitty physical world we have created, and we will LOVE IT (or be shuttled off to Happy Dave's 'non-compliance zones', so we don't interfere with the machine). I say: party in the ncz.
posted by soy bean at 5:06 AM on June 27, 2011

And in the future, the AI spellcheck will make sure that we never write their when we mean there.

Also, if anyone knows of any good sci-fi media that describes something like what I'm picturing above let me know.
posted by soy bean at 5:09 AM on June 27, 2011

posted by miyabo at 6:12 AM on June 27, 2011

Hasn't anybody got a vision that offers a better way of life without sacrificing liberty?
How about culling the herd? Reduce the world population to around 100M. Honestly, either we do it or global warming and the energy crash do it for us. Or maybe we find a source of limitless, clean energy? Hope it's that one!
posted by smammy at 10:55 AM on June 27, 2011

Just watched the first two(Planned-opolis and Communi-city). The character is so obnoxious. I mean is hitting a cyclist, sneering at them for using human powered transport, and saying "I can't stop I've got a date" supposed to be part of this ideal future?

I don't want whoever made these videos to build anything I have to live in.
posted by TheKM at 6:12 PM on June 27, 2011

It's just a bit of humor, although it may fall flat for those who've experienced bicycle related accidents.

(SPOILERS) You see at the end of that video that her date is the same cyclist she hit earlier. (Who is also her husband in the other videos.)
posted by Kevin Street at 7:03 PM on June 27, 2011

@TheKM, I think that part of it is supposed to show the typical attitudes of someone living and working in those cities, so however obnoxious a sneering attitude toward human powered transport is, that's the natural result of living in that type of urban environment. If you watch some of the other ones Vee in fact rides a bicycle herself; it just depends on the city.

For what it's worth I don't think any of the situations are ideal, even Renew-abad, which is clearly supposed to be the most transit-friendly, green, urbanist ideal.
posted by andrewesque at 9:45 AM on June 29, 2011

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