This is Part 2 of Chapter 2 of our book on the future of cities, being written with Dennis Walsh. Our plan is to publish a new book blog nearly every day for the next couple of months. We will publish them both here on futurist.com and on dothefuture.com. Later we will compile the blogs into an e-book.
We are debating the eventual title. We started with two choices: “Downtown” and “Shine…The Rebirth of American Cities.” Which do you like? We hope you will find the subject of interest and follow this book in serial form. A reader has suggested, “City Transformation?” So far, “Downtown” with a subtitle is leading. What do you think?
CHAPTER TWO – Part 2
by Dennis Walsh and Glen Hiemstra
Will the future be any different than the past? Will we continue to dream of cars as we dream of lovers? Will they always express our fantasies; fulfill our desires? Or will they become a distant memory like the horse and buggy?
America’s love affair with cars began as soon as they were invented. As Americans were lured to the suburbs, the construction of better highways made the transition possible. The Sunday drive became a peculiarly American phenomenon. The affair matured into a marriage, then became an addiction. Until just the past couple of years Americans drove more every year. To be without a car in the United States is to be almost in exile.
Millions of men moved seamlessly from the regimentation and conformity of the armed forces in World War II to the corporations that were rapidly growing with the American economy. They endured the endless frustration of conforming, of being trapped in the corporate rat race day after day, only to return every evening to a house in the suburbs. Fifties conformity meant long rows of new, identical prefabricated suburban houses; the acceptance of a uniform set of home appliances and very little social unrest. It was a time of intolerance for difference.
Conformity had its price. Beneath the calm image of the suburbs for those left stranded during the day there existed a growing sense of desperate isolation from the rest of the world. Women, housewives were stranded miles away from their families and friends they had grown up with in the city.
The United States in the 1950’s was a culture of contradictions, even in the midst of conformity a “something for everyoneâ€ culture flourished in the paradoxical era of Eisenhower era. Comic books entertained the young, rock n’ roll encouraged rebellion and defiant sexuality, while television dulled the mind. That time came to an end in the 1960s and today it is happening again in the midst of a profound shift in America’s social mood, a shift that will match and reflect your personality. This shift will focus on the needs of the community more than the individual.
The cities that realize that have begun the cultural and economic changes that will redefine them in the competitive new world to come. The new competitiveness will mean that cities must become great. And that kind of greatness will take resilience and sustainability. We are at a turning point with our species but time is running out. Cities cannot continue to grow and operate without being sustainable. Future cities may be more dangerous, less peaceful, and more polluted in 20 years. But they do not have to be.
Unlike your parents and grandparents who may have devoted their lives to a career and conformity, you will put lifestyle, family and friends above work and be drawn to the places you want to live rather than to work You and I have a responsibility to change the world. You (and your generation) have the motivation and power to do just that. To be truly great cities will need money and talent. It is no wonder that cities are trying to make themselves attractive to you. Everywhere cities are broken, or on the path to transformation, plain and simple. You will be the ones to transform them. The word revolution catches the spirit of what lies ahead. It is your time to shine.
[Glen Hiemstra is the Founder of Futurist.com, and curator of Dothefuture.com. Dennis Walsh is a sustainability futurist from Canada best known for his work as the first publisher of green@work. Contact us through futurist.com]