Friday, October 8, 2021

The Future, Courtesy of 1970

Earlier today, Cory Doctorow posted this 1970 image of some artist's rendering of what they thought the future would look like:

I don't know what the blue things with the tubes are supposed to be, and why there are domes in the background (is the air bad? is it not Earth, despite the trees and green grass?). All of the green inside the housing towers makes me think of buildings being done with green walls these days, though, and the monorail amps up the city of the future idea.

It made me think of a "city" I designed in 1970 myself when I was 10 years old. It's one of the few things I have from that long ago:

(Click to enlarge and see all the great details a 10-year-old could imagine.)

I'm not sure if I was thinking of this as a human habitation on another planet or the moon — seems likely, given all the domes — or if I thought we were rapidly killing the Earth's atmosphere (possible, given that it was the year of the first Earth Day). 

I see that I included lots of room for education, including a gigantic vocational school and smaller univercity (sic), plus a huge theater (named Delacorte, in honor of the one in Central Park, which I had recently learned about from a favorite book, The Affair of the Rockerbye Baby. I imagine that dome with the mostly unlabeled rectangles that contains the recycling center is the place where the grownups worked, with good proximity to the gym and pool. I had a monorail to connect everything, it looks like, and the food was grown in a greenhouse. 

Here's one thing I didn't think enough about: it looks like all of those scattered hamster-domes clusters are supposed to be single-family houses. Yes, 10-year-old me couldn't imagine the people of the future living any way except in nuclear-family arrangements, scattered around, alone on the surface of an inhospitable place. We couldn't even get to the monorail without getting into a space suit, it looks like. 

It's a good thing I didn't go into urban planning.


After writing this up, I did a reverse image search on artist's rendering at the top and found it was created by David Meltzer for National Geographic. That's the good news: Credit to the artist.

The bad news is that it was cropped, and with the whole image and a bit more examination, you can see that it illustrates an article about the future of farming, which is all about automation and chemicals. Those are cows living in the six-story high-rises, and the blue pyramids are their feed troughs. The domes in the background are specially lit greenhouses for specialty crops, while the corn, wheat and soybeans are farmed by remote-controlled combines and aircraft.

I'm trying to figure out how the farmers (who live in the modernist dreamhouse on the left side of the uncropped image) get across the highway blocking the way to their farm. I guess they fly over in a helicopter or maybe using a jet pack?

This environmental studies blog quotes a fair amount of the original article, which was written by Jules Billard. It's hard not to be disgusted by this bit of description about how the cow-towers work:

a tubular side drain flushes wastes to be broken down for fertilizer. Beside the farther pen, a processing plant packs beef into cylinders for shipment to market...

As we know, manure lagoons are one of the problems that has yet to be solved in the farming of 2021, so... not quite, Billard. And packing the beef into cylinders seems excessive, even for this vision.

Suffice it to say, this post didn't turn out quite how I expected. At least I wasn't designing the farm of the future back in 1970.

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