As a general comment, one should always be capable of asking whether or not, and if yes, then why, futuristic views of cities have anything to do with the future (as we do not know the future, it’s difficult to say). Most attempts construct features and systemic relations which deliberately depart from what we know, either in terms of forms and shapes or in terms of technologies, to the point, of course, of disenfranchising oneself with the laws of physics along the way, why not. A non negligible set of views of how cities might evolve in the future just exaggerate the good or bad sides of what they already feel which is driving the development of cities and societal life today. Some of them envisage humankind as surmounting current challenges and showing paradise-like settings, other on the contrary emphasis the dark sides of our current trends and depict quite terrifying urban environments and similarly correspondingly problematic social organizations. The fact that science fiction may add to that extra terrestrial forms of life or non-human kinds of intelligence does not alter the value of this brief inventory : most futuristic attempts, should they be expressed by current urban designers or architects wishing to bring their contributions to the set of existing creative solutions to contemporary cities, or belong to more artistic and more fiction-oriented considerations, al these proposals and designs have a lot to tell us, not on what the future might hold, but on ideas or issues which may help us learn about ourselves and explore new avenues on how to organize urban supportive factors, social as well as material, for the years to come. At the same time, this perspective on futuristic cities means that the message is not so obvious to capture and not mechanistically applicable as either a cooking recipe or, vice versa, but just the same, as a helpful list of things not to do.
For more clues and views on these « cities from the future », see in particular : http://www.infernodevelopment.com/45-incredible-futuristic-scifi-3d-city-illustrations
This creativity and its suggestive value is not so new (see for instance some Medieval or post-Medieval authors such as Cranach, Mercier and the « more recent » Wells). In the wake of these visions, everyone should for instance form his/her own opinion with a sample of initiatives and creations, and :
- meditate upon Le Corbusier design for a city of 3 million people presented at the World Art Deco exhibit of 1925 in Paris (The « Voisin » Planning), the expression by excellence of a rationalistic view of what a city ought to be, intersecting in many respects with the long history of utopian cities,
- see « Metropolis », a movie by Fritz Lang (1927), a combination of totalitarian organization with an exacerbated industrial revolution,
- get worried in the strange urban world of « Brazil », set by Terry Gilliam in his 1985 movie (and for a more complete treatment of fantastic cities in movies, see all cities mentioned in http://www.yume.co.uk/architectural-representations-of-the-city-in-science-fiction-cinema), or amused/fascinated by Luc Besson’ 1997 movie « The 5th element » (see view below)
- wander in the closer-to-us difficult atmosphere of « Les cités obscures » (« Obscure cities »), a strip-based series of urban stories by Schuiten and Peeters (1983-2009 : http://www.urbicande.be/intro/default.php?lg=en and https://www.altaplana.be/)
- and of course ponder on the even more fantastic proposals of either suspended, outer-space, underground or undersea cities which have been imagined, depicted and sometimes seriously proposed as alternatives to real-world cities.
A special word should be said here about cities which are claiming, today already, to represent the future and which indeed may well do, partly at least (some of them for their technological vocation, others for their environmental consistency): Silicon Valley, Tsukuba, Zviozdny Gorodok (near Moscow), and more recently Masdar, Songdo (South Korea), India’s Hyderabad, Shangai’s Chengdu, PlanIT Valley (in Portugal), etc. They correspond to deliberate efforts to concentrate solutions envisaged as radical (beyond moderate improvements) and systemically conceived (working on several urban dimensions at the same time), supporting the claim of effective leapfrogging into urban futures.
However, looking at all these experiments, they all convey their lots of biases, which explains why most of them fail, losing after some years, their initial impetus. If we take the case of Masdar, which concentrates undeniable efforts to promote a new approach to many energetic issues, either towards zero carbon footprinting or regarding specific energetic innovations systems in various domains (cooling, internal transport, waste management, office air conditioning), there is in reality a lot of grey energy to be taken into account if one wants to reach a more robust global appraisal of what Masdar really means, with in particular all the technologies coming from elsewhere, all the companies considering establishing a branch activity in Masdar and of course, linked to that, the near-by airport of Abu Dhabi, ncessary to make Masdar a high-performing node in a more global urban network. These nuance does not disqualify the Masdar experiment at all, but situates it in a worldwide « learning-by-doing » expertise in which all the forms of urban-related knowledge are worth integrating as part of a global commonality, a collective « work in progress ».
Masdar views,, current (left) and to be implemented (right):
Today, one of the most interesting kind of projective attempts regarding future cities is the category involving a holistic inclination to solve several types of problems at the same time (social, material, environmental, etc.) at a scale in which things can really be mean an impacting change as compared to the current trends (moderate « greening » efforts). This of course triggers the inmagination of those who manage to combine artistic know-how and social and environmental concerns. One of the most characteristic examples of this orientation is the Dragonfly concept for New York City, a gigantic urban farming construction propose by the Belgian architect Vincent Callebaut, who tried to contribute and solve several challenges at the same time (see for that, in particular : http://vincent.callebaut.org/page1-img-dragonfly.html, http://inhabitat.com/dragonfly-urban-agriculture-concept-for-ny/ and http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1186312/Garden-city-Dragonfly-shaped-skyscraper-feed-Earths-booming-population.html. This initiative has triggered the creativity of many others, who started to elaborate more concretely the notion of urban vertical farming (see below the vertical Tokyo farm initiative, http://www.archdaily.com/428868/in-tokyo-a-vertical-farm-inside-and-out/), much easier to replicate than ther Dragonfly model (see for that the « Green City » on our Smart Cities of Tomorrow portal, with the basic appraisal published by the New Scientist http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22129524.100-vertical-farms-sprouting-all-over-the-world.html#.VEPGmRZonEA):
Let’s stress that we are here in the domain of futuristic proposals, and that much has been assessed until now on the feasibility and new problems raised by this kind of concept, on the one hand bringing solutions and on the other hand, raising new, difficult and multi-factoral issues to cope with. Again, these initiatives are very useful in making us reflect, experiment, capable of assessing., comparing and leaving open the creativity necessary to shape the smart cities of tomorrow.