Notes: The city as a symbol of the future

King’s Dream of New York – Book Cover by Moses King, 1908

The city has been a visual symbol of the future for well over a century, and the “futureness” of it is always reflected in the same way: by increasing the density, verticality, and mobility. From “King’s Dream of New York” — the book cover from 1908 pictured here — to science fiction icons such as Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element or Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, popular culture places us in a future vision by showing us a city that holds more people that we imagine possible, housed in gigantic buildings that dwarf any current city, flitting about in vehicles that do not yet exist (usually flying ones).

Although urban visions are changing to accommodate the needs of climate change, and green urbanism is a mainstream feature of both past and future city planning, people still think of the future as being “more of the same” in these classically urban terms: dense, vertical, mobile.*

And of course, we must add the word technological, for the city is the opposite of our agrarian, low-tech past. Agriculture and rural life is, in fact, a symbol of the past, just as the city is a symbol of the future — except when agriculture involves hydroponics powered by solar cells in a modern, urban building. This expanding practice is sometimes called “vertical farming“.

 

* With thanks to Jeremiah B.C. Axelrod who points out these qualities in Inventing Autopia: Dreams and Visions of the Modern Metropolis in Jazz Age, University of California Press, 2009

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