What Should The Carbon-Free Futurama Look Like?

The Futurama exhibit at the 1939 World's Fair excited an entire generation about suburbia. At a meeting of the Citistates Group, policy wonks wondered whether it's possible to create a new vision of a Carbon-Free Futurama.

"If Californians – and Americans -- are going to cut greenhouse gas emissions, they're going to have to drive less. But is wonking on policy really the best way to make this happen? Or do we have to create a compelling alternate vision for the next generation's lifestyle – a kind of Carbon-Free Futurama?

There's a lot of discussion about how policy can affect VMT. But policy may be too slow and too reactive. At least that seemed to be the consensus at the informal, once-every-now-and-then, and extremely wonky gathering of Neal Peirce's Citistates Group.

So how else do we go after this? By presenting a positive alternative lifestyle that focuses on "high efficiency and low impact," at least according to all-purpose policy wonk Marc Weiss and economist Doug Henton.

Which leads to the obvious question: What would the Carbon-Free Futurama look like?"

Thanks to Bill Fulton

Full Story: The Carbon-Free Futurama



Since we're visioning (dreaming) it might as well be big (small)

The Futurama exhibit (as far as the pictures show) was an image of unfettered mobility. High speeds, vast distances, unencumbered by specifics about fuel sources, policy prescriptions, tax implications, and as we now know, maintenance and re-construction of infrastructure.

Along those same lines the Carbon-neutral Futurama needs to have fully fleshed out ideas that may get laughed at in more pragmatic realistic settings. So some things I personally would put in my Futurama diorama:

1. PRT - as unrealistic as it is, it still is a mode which has great potential for private/public partnership. Imagine public infrastructure down major roads with privately funded loops and vehicles servicing business parks and residential communities.

2. Multi-modal guideways - roads, lightrail, BRT, electric mobility vehicle/high speed bike lanes, low-speed bike paths, and sidewalks all sharing space. Suburban neighborhoods and shopping centers connected by bike paths. Electric bicycles. In more dense areas implement free roads. No striping, no signs except one: Respect Slower Modes.

3. Solution oriented sustainability - Every sustainability option on the table: Solar panels everywhere, gray water recycling, green roofs, re-powering stations offering electric, hydrogen, bio-diesel.

I know that a lot of these things will bring up the argument that electricity still has to come from somewhere, so what if those sources are carbon based. To that I would say that a vision has to inspire solutions, so we can't bog it down with all the problems it will face before it even gets off the ground. The general motors Futurama did not picture refineries, oil tankers, and storage facilities. finally converting those sole sources to a more carbon neutral mode of production would still be easier than converting millions of automobile engines.

Those are just a few thoughts.

The outline has already been provided


Next step: Either build a real car-free city somewhere (preferred), or create some kind of exiting Futurama-type exhibition. In this day and age, who knows what that would be - a movie? A complete mock-up of the city using Google Earth and Sketchup? Second Life?

The Next Step Toward Futurama

The next step is a car-free zone in a traditional city or town - which already exists in Ghent, Belgium; Mackinack Island, Michigan, and other places. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Car-free_zone.

In this case, real reality is better than virtual reality.

Bring back the windmills around Ghent, and we are almost there.

Charles Siegel

The Past-o-rama

In terms of urban design, the carbon-free futurama should look a lot like the past - with walkable neighborhoods like traditional cities and streetcar suburbs.

We need major innovations in design of individual buildings, so buildings use much less energy. And we need major innovations in the source of energy we use, which must be carbon free.

But we don't need major innovations in urban design. The old-fashioned cities where people walked had the urban design right. The modernist, innovative approach to urban design that futurama popularized is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Charles Siegel

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