A new exhibit presents a vision of a fossil-fuel-free mobility system in a city not designed around cars.
As automobiles began taking over cities in the early 1900s, an exhibit at the 1939 New York World’s fair titled “Futurama” gave visitors a glimpse of a city twenty years in the future where cars ruled the landscape.
The vision, sponsored by the General Motors Corporation, equated new with better included a superhighway system which connected small towns and a metropolis “replanned around a highly developed modern traffic system.”
A video documenting the exhibit declared “Over space man has begun to win victory, space for living, space for working, space for play, all available for more people than ever before.”
That car-utopia vision never quite panned out leaving cities to deal with traffic congestion, pollution and freeways that separated — and in many cases destroyed — neighborhoods. Inspired by, yet a critique of, that car-centric vision is the exhibit Futurama Redux, opening today at the Center for Architecture & Design. Futurama Redux presents a best-case scenario thirty years in the future after a post-carbon transition which rejects car-centric city planning — instead designing streets around urban dwellers.
The exhibit “argues that a shift beyond fossil fuels is necessary and vital for maintaining resilient urban environments.”
Futurama Redux, which has been shown in Hong Kong, Ecuador and Croatia, was created by the future urban mobility think tank Smarter Than Car which believes bicycles are the key to sustainable urban environments in a future post-carbon world.
Smarter Than Car began in 2010 Beijing, China as the city’s first cycling advocacy group after the group’s founders saw a strong rise in car ownership in the city.
Florian Lorenzo, director of Smarter Than Car and curator of the exhibit, says the “car is a great invention, but in a dense city it is not human scale.” And cars have “made our cities less humane and created environmental problems.”
“Do we use the space in dense cities for parking cars or urban life?” Lorenzo questions.
At a time when climate change points to the need to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and transition to sustainable sources of energy, Futurama Redux challenges visitors to picture how a transition to a post-carbon world could shape transportation Seattle.
Smarter Than Car says bicycle urbanism, defined as “a city where the bicycle is the common denominator for the success of our urban planning and management efforts,” can help solve those problems. But to the think tank, bicycle urbanism goes beyond installing bike lanes, but retrofitting and redesigning cities using bicycles as “a benchmark for the functioning of a city.” (Watch Lorenzo discuss “Bicycle Urbanism” during his 2013 TED talk.)
The exhibit presents several strategies to achieve its goals, including designing roads that no longer give cars the center of the street, instead regulating them to the outer lanes. It also posits the creation of superblocks, creating mini neighborhoods and freeing up space for people.
Lorenzo, who uses a bike as his main mode of transportation in Vienna, says while his hometown is not as hilly as Seattle, the rise of electric bikes will make cycling more accessible in Seattle.
The opening reception for the free exhibit is today between 6pm – 8pm and will run through February 17, 2018, at the Center for Architecture & Design located at 1010 Western Avenue.