Why Are So Many Visions of the Future Dominated by Cars?

©. Modern Mechanix

The private car has dominated our design dreaming for a hundred years; no wonder it is so hard to break the habit.

Darren Garrett has written a wonderful series, A Visual History of the Future, where he asks, "Could fantastical plans for the cities of tomorrow solve the real problems of urban life?" He writes:

For centuries, architects and urban planners have mixed the mundane with the fantastical as they imagined the cities of the future. While some ideas toyed with the building blocks, others reflected a desire to fundamentally reshape urban life — and to solve some of society’s most pressing problems.

We have shown a lot of them on TreeHugger, and found that, in fact, they were showing what was pretty much a version of what we already had, with more cars and more highways. I thought I would round up a few, starting above with the "Artist’s Idea of the City of Tomorrow” from 1934, which looks pretty much like the city of today, the only difference being that you can actually find a gas station.
Norman Bel Geddes designs the city of the future in 1939

GM Futurama

© GM Futurama 1939 World's Fair

One of the most influential cities of the future was designed by Norman Bel Geddes for GM at the World's Fair.

Residential, commercial and industrial areas have all been separated for greater efficiency and convenience. New highways and rights-of-way are "carefully routed as to displace outmoded business sections and undesirable slum areas whenever possible. Man continuously strives to replace the old with the new."

You see this vertical separation of people from cars in Hong Kong, and I suspect that we will be seeing a lot more of it now that Autonomous Cars are on the horizon, as I have noted when asking Will self-driving cars lead to grade-separated cities? and How will self-driving cars affect our cities? Two views. It is inevitable; just read what people are saying now about jaywalking 2.0.

Motopia: An Idea for an Upside Down City


via Tom Vanderbilt/Public Domain

I rather liked this idea for putting the cars on top and keeping the ground for people. "No person will walk where automobiles move,” is how British architect Geoffrey Alan Jellicoe described his town of the future, “and no car can encroach on the area sacred to the pedestrian." I wrote:

"It seems rather odd, putting the cars up in the air like that, but it certainly does clear up the ground plane for people in what appears to be a cross between a Fujian Tulou and Apple's new headquarters. For some reason it didn't catch on."



© Toyota H2Pia Division

Designers are still doing this; my favourite vision of the future remains H2pia, designed around the hydrogen economy, where we all have these lovely solar powered houses in the country connected by our hydrogen cars. I redid it as an April Fools joke a few years ago, but the images are still fabulous.

The 'burbs are back, but they will be different this time.

credit: Matthew Spremulli via MIT News

© Matthew Spremulli via MIT News

The latest and greatest is this from Matthew Spremulli, a suburb of curvy streets full of autonomous cars under a sky full of delivery drones. Professor Alan Berger claims that “designed intelligently, suburbia can be a highly productive test bed for clean energy, clean water, food, carbon storage, social diversity, and certainly affordable housing.” I was impressed, writing, "It sounds so grand; hyperloops, autonomous cars, the return of suburban office parks, drones dropping lunch dropping out of the sky, all that green space sucking up carbon. I can't wait."