Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Future -- As It Used To Be

This is a brief article from Gustav Stickley's "The Craftsman" Magazine, March 1911, reporting on a futurist conference in London:


ONE of the possibilities of the city of
the future, as it will be remodeled
from existing cities or built from
the start in accordance with mod-
ern needs were outlined by the town
planning experts who met at the Town
Planning Conference recently held in Lon-
don. The most eminent men in this line,
both in Europe and America, discussed the
subject thoroughly, their deliberations be-
ing aided by maps, drawings and photo-
graphs of the most notable work already
done in this country and abroad, and it is
expected that a fresh impetus will be given
to the remodeling of towns as a result of
this broadening of viewpoint and exchange
of experiences. A prominent part was
taken by Mr. D. H. Burnham, President of
the American National Commission on Fine
Arts, and Mr. Burnham's own feeling is
that the conference will make an imme-
diate and deep impression on the laying out
of cities and towns all over the world.

The most striking prophecy regarding
future cities was made by M. Eugene Hénard,
Municipal Architect of Paris. M.
Hénard confidently predicts that in the near
future light and energy will be conveyed
universally by electricity, while petrol and
oxygen will be depended on to supply heat,
-a comforting thought in view of our di-
minishing wood and coal supply. Also,
every well-equipped house will be supplied
with a private cold-storage plant, refriger-
ated by means of liquid air, a device that
will probably have a good effect on the
price of perishable provisions by putting
within the reach of the people one of the
jobber's chief sources of profit. Another
suggestion that might well be applied dur-
ing the dog days in New York is the recom-
mendation that cold radiators, as well as
heat radiators, be used to keep dwellings at
a comfortable temperature in summer as
well as winter. M. Hénard holds that by
this means each house might be provided
with one or more health chambers, closed
by double windows and doors, in which the
family would be enabled to reap all the
benefits of cool air, full of oxygen, during
the most sultry summer weather.

Another prediction reminds one of Ed-
ward Bellamy's "Looking Backward." It
is that glass verandas of various shapes,
joined together so as to afford protection
to the sidewalks, will ultimately be a fea-
ture of all cities and towns. By such a de-
vice the elusive umbrella would at last re-
ceive its just deserts, for the streets would
be just as dry and comfortable in rainy
weather as they are now on sunny days.
Also, the city of the future, according to
M. Hénard, will have buildings exactly as
high as the street is wide, in which case
New York may achieve within the century
the status of an interesting relic of the past.
The roofs of these houses would be plat-
forms ornamented with shrubbery and
flower-beds, to be used as roof gardens.

The town of the future, as regards its
topography, will offer a marked contrast to
the favorite checkerboard arrangement of
the average American city in that it will be
traversed by large radiating thoroughfares,
partly occupied by moving platforms,
raised above the level of the sidewalk
proper, which will afford a means of quick
communication between the different zones.
The idea is to terminate these platforms by
large revolving crossways, placed at the
intersection of the main streets, so that the
crowds in the most congested districts will
be unable to block the streets.

Dr. Hénard of Paris was surprisingly prescient in his general outlines of the City of the Future, much more so than many other futurists of the era, though his details largely didn't pan out.

This and many other conferences and future planning sessions were generated near the outset of the Progressive Era, that first time through for Progressives that modern-day Progressives seem to have forgotten about. It was a very forward looking period, during which almost anything seemed possible, soon, and it ultimately produced most of the infrastructure we take for granted today.

But the futurist imagination and energy is essentially absent from today's So-Called Progressives. The "Progressive" program seems to consist entirely of delaying and mitigating the slide backward being implemented by rightists, theocrats, and reactionaries at home and world wide. There is no conception of a Future under the circumstances. Only a slightly slower and less brutal return to the past.

Progress? I think not.

A blog to wile away the hours wondering What Happened?: http://www.paleofuture.com/

1 comment:

  1. Hey man,

    I replied to you over at UT.

    As always, thanks and cheers to you and your efforts.