Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Mead vs Jetsons in the city of the future

"The future ain't what it used to be."

At least I think that's the Yogi Berra quote. It was the upshot of an article over at The Atlantic. It basically looked at why we never got the future cities portrayed in The Jetsons. Now one point to make perfectly clear is that no rational person ever saw that cartoon as intending any real prescience. But it did give us a "cultural vision" of a sort, an ideal many hoped for at the time.

As the article points out though, the cartoon was not a complete miss. It somewhat predict our fast-paced, interconnected lives. Like the world of The Jetsons, we have moving walkways, mobile video screens, and interactive displays. So why didn't we get cool transportation like flying cars or hovering cities? Well for one thing, no one at the time realized how many people would be living in cities by now. It's estimated that over half of the world's population are urban dwellers. By 2050 that percentage will grow to 75%. This, as I'm sure you surmise, causes both strain and limitations upon infrastructure. 

If not The Jetsons, then who does render our new, "best guess" at the city of the future?

I vote for Syd Mead.

Mead is a concept artist who gave many famous films their signature look. Most notable among these for me is Blade Runner. He was once quoted as defining science fiction as "reality ahead of schedule." If we examine his art, I believe we can already see ourselves. If you'll indulge me however, I would go take a look at Mead's art vis-a-vis The Jetsons.

I'm aware this is something of a Bambi vs Godzilla proposition, but stay with me for a moment.

Look at the architecture, the stylization of the buildings. Even as the population of cities keep growing, the physical space of these will not. That means the only direction to go is up. Buildings will just get taller. You see that in Blade Runner. They also project a dirtier, less idealistic image than those in The Jetsons. I'll take the buildings from Blade Runner, thanks. Then again my worldview is rather Blade Runner on the whole. Further underscoring that view is the fact that in the film, the wealthy or 1%, live on the highest levels of the buildings, far above the working class and the poor. This might owe more inspiration to Fritz Lang's Metropolis but it doesn't matter. Both films are cool.

In terms of transportation, Syd Mead's designs give us the Spinner. The Jetdons had their flying car and Blade Runner had the Spinner, a more functional version of the former and rendered in brutalist sensibility. 

But could our Syd Mead-inspired cities have VertiPods

Now a few of you out there might be...concerned. There is after all a certain grittiness to the Blade Runner vision and devotees of The Jetsons might find it depressing.

Depressing? Hell, I'm already there.

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