Humans have always been captivated by futuristic tales and visions on how the world and cities would be like in 10 , 20, 30, 100 years. One of the first visionaries was a greek man: Hippodamus of Miletus, that lived in 5th century BC. Considered by Aristotle as the first town planner and ‘inventor’ of the orthogonal urban layout, Hippodamus was an “attention seaker” Aristotle complained, that used long hair and expensive ornaments, and that spent his time sketching projections of the ideal city: such place was to be inhabited by 10,000 men (free male citizens), while the overall population including the correspondent women, children and slaves would reach 50,000 people.
Hippodamus was just one of a long series of futuristic sketchers, as to predict the city and city life has been a continuous activity of humans. From Hippodamus, to Thomas More description of a perfect society in the happy island of “Utopia” to the italian futurists, we have always been engaged through times in magnificent dreams of forecasting what would be the future of the city and life in general.
If we look back one century ago, we can see how the tremendous aspirations that are placed today on the benefical impact that the internet and the disruptive technologies will have in our future, those hopes were already there, one century ago, by the beginning of XXth century, when humans looked with expectation towards science, technology and modernity as the elixirs of happiness and improved life style. A particular movement in Italy, embraced wholeheartedly the energy and dynamism of modern technology and the future : Futurism.
Futurism was to be widely influential, particularly in Russia, England and Italy. It emphasized and glorified themes associated with contemporary concepts of the future, including speed, technology, youth and violence, and objects such as the car, the aeroplane and the industrial city. Futuristic drawings used to sketch modern busy metropolis with majestic towers. Drawings of the future of households and lifestyle appeared as well in fantastic literature all over the world, particularly during the 1930s age of wonder. Curiously, those magnificient visions declined during the 1980s, probably due to the accumulation of problems of the megapolis, and the realisation that massive industrial cities were not nice dreams at all.Flying Trains. Russian Illustration from the 1930s
But now, something changes again. With the maturation of internet, that brings increased connectedness and instant communication, one looks with renewed interest to those old visions of the future. Everyday a new article shows up online, recalling once more the bright visions of the future, that were produced sometime in the past. Those retro futuristic visions coexist now, at the moment of a click, with novel anticipations of days to come.“The Monsanto House of the Future was an attraction at Disneyland, California from 1957 to 1967. The design and engineering of the house was done jointly by Monsanto, MIT and Walt Disney Imagineering. The attraction offered a tour of a home of the future, set in the year 1986.
Life in 2030
How are we predicting the city of the future, say, in 2030, according to the hopes, dreams and type of world we live in today? That question was asked to a group of employees of the company Ericsson, and their answers were assembled in a short animated video published in March : Life in 2030. The video explores projections of how life will be like with the efficient help of the Internet of things, driveless cars and various other disruptives technologies that are being invented now. The video is the latest one published by The Networked Society, which is an online platform sponsored by Ericsson, that aims to reflect how connectivity is transforming the world, and triggering new ways of innovating, collaborating and socializing.
The Networked Society makes its own kind of corporate futurist manifest by stating:
“We are on the brink of an extraordinary revolution. A world connected in real time will place many new requirements on all of us while opening up opportunities beyond our imagination. Our new Networked Society Essentials kit explores the emerging possibilities of a connected world. It’s about creating freedom, empowerment and opportunity, transforming industries and society while helping find solutions to some of the greatest challenges facing our planet.”
But will humans be as predictable, as this video tends to suggest ? If we won’t mind to be softly guided by machines like this, where will be the place for our healthy disruption of routines and habits, when bothered with the same type of milk and cornflakes every day ? If we are creatures of habits, were are also creative and always changing.
The Networked Society has a whole section dedicated to city life with short videos, blog posts and research articles. As we all know there will be a growing tendency of the world population to reside in urban areas (70 % in 2050, according to the website) but the good news is that those urban areas are now increasingly better connected with broadband. As we face in our times serious economic, environmental and social challenges “city life” aims to support an open platform of exchange of ideas and information on how to deal with the challenges of the future of cities, by looking for solutions that can transform cities into creative, connected and sustainable places, which could create various opportunities of healthy growth.
What is interesting when comparing the visions of XXth century, with the new ones being produced now, such as the one brought to us by The Networked Society, is that if the visions of XXth century emphazised the industrial skyscrapper city, runned by violence, and filled with all types and sorts of complicated machines, it seems now to my eyes, that even though a lot of hope is still placed in technology, a whole new set of holistic ideas are shaping our futuristic forecasts. These aim to look at cities, as places where the lives of billons of people could be improved through connectedness, a greater sense of community, a more balanced relationship with nature, wise use of resources, and the construction of happiness. One thing is certain: we now know that our hopes and action shouldn’t be only placed in either the disruptives technologies of nowadays or the growth of wealth. We have had those two ingredients in our “magic potions” of urban planning and governamental policy, for quite a long time actually. We now know that something else is necessary to bring us all the marvellous city life that our happy futurists tended to sketch for so many centuries. As Charles Montgomery says in his book: “Happy City: transforming our urban lives through urban design”: Cities must be regarded as more than engines of wealth; they must be viewed as systems that should be shaped to improve human well-being.”
Maria Fonseca is the Editor and Infographic Artist for IntelligentHQ. She is also a thought leader writing about social innovation, sharing economy, social business, and the commons. Aside her work for IntelligentHQ, Maria Fonseca is a visual artist and filmmaker that has exhibited widely in international events such as Manifesta 5, Sao Paulo Biennial, Photo Espana, Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Joshibi University and many others. She concluded her PhD on essayistic filmmaking , taken at University of Westminster in London and is preparing her post doc that will explore the links between creativity and the sharing economy.