Throughout history, people have spent a great deal of time pondering what the future holds. Scientific discovery and technological innovation – along with rebellious androids, zombies, flying cars, hover crafts, visiting aliens – have been consistently used as stereotypes that emerge in predictions for our imagined future. And while Hollywood was busy exploring dystopian scenarios of this near-future, architects were composing utopian images of an optimistic vision for cities.
Architects have built careers upon predicting what cities can potentially become – developing forms, functions, plans and visions of possibilities in the social, political, economic and cultural realms through architecture. In 1962, Mayor Robert Wagner of NYC predicted a culturally diverse, economically viable, global city for New York in 2012. In 1988, Los Angeles Times Magazine gave its 25-year forecast for Los Angeles in 2013, predicting what a life for a family would be like, filled with robots, electric cars, smart houses and an abundance of video-conferencing. Find out how their predictions fared after the break.
The 1960s, the decade in which Mayor Wagner was writing his predictions, was a difficult time of social and economic decay for New York City. A rise in a welfare burden and a declining population were both influenced by – and the results of – an increase in crime and failures in infrastructure that did not abate until the late 1970s. It makes sense then that Wagner’s words foretell a future for the city that has emerged out of this burdensome crisis, to become a global city that would “reflect the spirit of individual enterprise, of economic opportunity, of social ferment and of cultural excitement” and that will “bespeak social pioneering, progress, and justice”. Wagner’s future is marvelously optimistic. He envisions New York City’s influence stretching far beyond its five boroughs, embracing the suburbs of Long Island and Westchester and even becoming a central node of the tri-state area that includes New Jersey and Connecticut.
His 2012 vision is fairly accurate. New York City did rise out of the proverbial ashes beginning with the election of fiscally conservative mayor, Ed Koch, and has since become a global city. “Much more than today,” Wagner writes, “NYC will serve for America and the world as a cultural, intellectual and spiritual greenhouse”. While NYC still holds high its caliber as a global city, Wagner certainly did not foresee the globalization of our industrial and manufacturing markets. He just as easily missed how the development of countries like China and India have shifted our labor markets and our technological development. In fact, he predicted that industry and manufacturing would return in a grand scale to NYC to be close to regional rail lines and ports. And while there has been an re-emergence in the last few decades of manufacturing in some of NYC’s districts, it does not shift the city’s identity from being a financial center with its heart in Wall Street.
Wagner writes about a socially accepting city where “slums will be just a distant memory of a rot that afflicted the city long ago … [and] racial discrimination will be only a legend, referred to as an illustration of a past shame”. He sees a city that embraces difference rather than conformity, a city of endless variety, a city where cultures do not blend into one but are celebrated and embraced. Those ideals are still within the city’s cross-hairs, gradually approaching a more accepting and progressive city.
His vision of the physical manifestation of the city is that of a mixed-use master planning proposal that combines centers of culture, recreation and education into areas integrated with housing. These great complexes of neighborhoods or communities or possibly massive buildings are envisioned as rising high above any buildings in his contemporary city of 1962. They do not occupy all the ground space and there is a vast freedom for plantings, grasses, sunlight and greenery. Skyscrapers are living cities combined with light and air – as integral as stone, glass or steel. Was Wagner thinking of roof gardens, terraces, green facades, energy code standards, and LEED design guides? And as for housing, the critical component of healthy city life, “will be designed and built to promote the social values of individual, family and community life rather than laid out with the sole object of renting or selling at a particular price to a particular economic group or class”.
By 2012, the problems of 1962 will have long been solved “but these solutions will have uncovered further and even more difficult problems whose eventual solution will, in turn, uncover still over problems.” He may have been optimistic in the resolution of the city’s problems, but he was critically realistic of the crises that the city, the country and the world would continue to face.
The LA Times’ comprehensive report takes an extensive look at the direction in which the social, economic, cultural and technological shifts will affect every day life in a bustling, global city. The 25-year forecast is much more concerned with outlining the technological advancements that would change the lives of LA’s residents. In an hour-by-hour look at the life of a small family, Nicole Yorkin presents us with a vision of the city as taken from interviews with planners, futurists, scientists, inventors and sociologists that study social trends. In Yorkin’s collaborated account, the Morrow family has a smart home that automatically “turns itself on” in the morning to wake its residents. Robots carry out menial tasks around the house, helping children with their school work, and offering overall support to the family.
LA is a renewed city with renovated infrastructure – clean, sleak and bright. Automobiles are still prevalent and clog the artieries of LA’s infrastructural networks, but alternatives to gas cars are found in induction lanes that cater to electric cars that slid along the roadways. Cars are customizable, GPS has taken over our navigation systems, and cars can automatically respond to the road’s conditions. Yorkin acknowledges the environmental crises – the sun is getting hotter, the ozone layer is still depleting, and our health needs constant monitoring by our electrical appliances.
The 2013 of today may not be as advanced as 1988 expected it to be, but some advancements are familiar: Google’s self-driving car; the prevalence of GPS; electric cars; smart homes that monitor temperature and air quality and connect through wireless networks to emergency and security systems; and our constant attachment to electronic means of communication – to which Yorkin does not refer to as the internet but generally describes video-conferencing, fiber-optics and e-mail.
In identifying the current problems that LA and metropolises around the work are facing, Yorkin and the team of consultants are dead on. They predicted rising population and demographic shifts that reflect a greater diversity of immigrants; a decline in manufacturing jobs and a rise in white-collar service industries to be filled by the immigrant populations. They also warn that planning would need to begin early to address failures in the education systems, address the needs of immigrant communities and address housing shortages and increasing density in the way people live, as well as finding solutions for better resource management.
Both predictions look at the future with optimism. Planners and designers are optimistic by nature – they envision a better future for cities of today and plan to succeed in strategies that improve upon the economic, social and cultural conditions of today. Wagner’s view of NYC describes a very general idea of how fifty years would resolve the dismal crises faced by the city in the 1960s. It looks at the city from a social and planning perspective, taking into account the relationships of residents to their city. In contrast, the LA Times Magazine looked at the future as a technological utopia where technology is fully integrated into our everyday lives, and challenges how we conduct our duties day to day. Perhaps these two imaginings of the future could serve us in predicting what the next twenty-five, fifty or a hundred years of our development holds by combining our social and cultural expectations with the rapidly advancing technology at our side.
Image Sources: Los Angeles Times Magazine, April 3, 1988 and The Gothamist