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May 01, 2009

A new Futurama

In 1939, Robert Moses, Norman Bel Geddes and the General Motors Corporation put on an exhibit called Futurama, showcased at the World's Fair. Some 23,000 visitors a day settled into movable seats to be whisked through a dazzling vision of the future – of gleaming, tall towers set in open space, and serviced by multi-lane highways. Some of the same depiction of future conveniences appeared in the 1964 World's Fair, also directed by Moses, including General Electric's Tomorrowland.
     Earlier this month, a group of engineers, architects, planners, museum directors, writers and others gathered at the Pocantico Conference Center at Tarrytown, N.Y. to consider the merits of putting on a new Futurama – a vision of what life might be like in 2050, when more sustainable arrangements are likely to be in place, including more transport options such as transit, energy-efficient buildings, and renewable power sources including solar and wind. A more positive portrayal of post-carbon life is needed to balance the apocoplyctic predictions of warming, says organizer Bill Becker, executive director of the Denver-based Presidents Climate Action Project Petra Todorovich from America 2050 demonstrated an interactive presentation on how people would make different journeys in the future, using intelligent transportation or high-speed rail. Gary Lawrence from Arup presented on the planned Chinese eco-city of Dongtan.
     In a presentation based on research for the forthcoming book, Wrestling with Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took on New York's Master Builder and Transformed the American City, I noted that Moses successfully used theatrical elements to capture public imagination and bolster support for his roadway-building agenda. A critical component was the theme of promise and possibility, rather than constraints or sacrifice.
     The gathering was made possible by the Rockfeller Brothers Fund. Becker, who posted on the Climate Progress blog, said an initial exhbit on sustainability in the future might appear in museums such as the Chicago Field Museum and others around the country, with an accompanying interactive Web site feature.

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