Author: DANIELLE DE ARAUJO FARIA
“Anything you dream is fiction, and anything you accomplish is science, the whole history of mankind is nothing but science fiction.”
- Ray Bradbury
It is always an interesting way you go when thinking about the future. I like the idea that it is similar when thinking about history, but plenty of possibilities, even more, when you ask yourself “what if?”, your fiction pass. If you put some science, all things become achievable. However, when it comes to urbanism, everything goes a little bit differently. From the huge Metropolis (1927) to the virtual duality of Tron: The Legacy (2010), the future of the cities’ concept is always a vehicle to science fiction worlds. But what does it mean about how it is going to be urban environments at the turn of 2100?
First, allow me to introduce myself. I am Danielle de Araujo Faria, a long-term reader who dreams of being part of the creation of the city of the future, as I intend to head my studies in the area of architecture and urbanism. Writing from Sao Jose dos Campos, a city of Sao Paulo, in Brazil, thinking about urbanism as a science fiction work was a wonderful experience, as is takes me to a completely different way of how I think about the city I currently live in and the city I would like to live in, in a few years
This essay tells a story with a different configuration of urbanism, with the intent of creating a panorama of some contemporary urban studies put together, such as verticalization, self-sufficient buildings and augmented reality integration to create a scenario of the New World, the city where our adventure takes place.
The New World is about a society that had passed through a phenomenon called the Great Collapse, which transformed 40% of the habitable areas of the planet into huge and unstable deserts, where it became unviable to the humankind to live. So, they were forced to adapt themselves to about half of its territory to a population twice larger.
As a result, the entire society underwent a process of restructuring. Money was in the background when what would determine the survival of the species would be innovative ideas that would redesign the world according to the new conditions around, and, then, we see the first signs of a city of the future.
The first step was to overcome the limitations to create a building according to its foundations; the verticalization of habitable areas was the first transformation of urbanism. Soon, the society had an intermediate plan between the ground and the sky, and began its reconstruction there, in a way somewhat chaotic.
Finally, the precariousness of the scenario worried the developers, who, with their ascending influence, decided to put some control over what was happening. With this, the movement of the planned cities was intensified. However, instead of using a new land, the edifice construction would be over the existing buildings, with the basis that it would be a necessary sacrifice to restore the social order and guarantee its longevity.
A new social organization was determined: the developers would be at the highest Levels, where they would be able to watch all their work and development, also observing their flaws, so that they could be repaired as soon as possible. From that point, the lower Levels would be distributed according to the importance of their functions for the effective functioning of the city. Doctors, teachers, political leaders, artists, scholars, all had their dedicated Level and proper recognition. On the Levels below, were the other citizens and students.
With the establishment of the new urban structure and the new perspective over innovation, the main function of society became what was called the Creator. The Creators were developers responsible for new technologies that should integrate the city. The effects could already be seen inside the house. The idea of rooms and furniture ceased to exist. The dweller acquired an environment, where was installed programmable microtechnology that acquired shape and color as it was designed on its software, adapting in size, shape, and purpose according to the resident's demand. It was created to be an accessible technology to increase the quality of life of all the population. Pulled together with augmented reality, environments came to life quickly and with higher quality.
Speaking of augmented reality, it is not possible to ignore its role in this new society. Devices that incorporate our daily lives, such as cell phones, have assumed a new shape. With the new Strawberry Pie system, the user entered with their identity and then integrated the digital system of the city, where billboards came to life, facades that changed every day, increasingly creative media and advertisements. Navigating the city and its levels were also easier and safer, given that the device's location system prevents you from getting lost.
Injectable microchips were the first format suggested by the Creators, but everyone has seen where it ends. The idea was seriously rejected by the population, not even passing through the testing phase. Then, they made a new proposal: to rescue the good old glasses, more efficient and comfortable with new technology. Thus, the citizen had the right to choose when to carry the device and when to maintain their privacy. However, owing to the high acceptance of the product, which started to be used on a large scale for various functions, it soon became a fundamental accessory. Identity documents, permission to enter buildings or move between Levels, financial transactions, academic recognition, interaction with the city’s system and communication were part of the information stored on your device and the functions it performed, in addition to allowing the user to have the vision of the New World in its entirety.
But where were the goods produced, where are the industries? At the lowest Levels. The production lines supplied the entire city, guaranteeing its quality of life. Nevertheless, developers would not be so cruel; there were no more humans working on the production lines. As population density grew, the demand for resources was humanly impossible to handle. Therefore, even before verticalization took place, it was guaranteed that all the hard work would be done by robots, then all of humanity could dedicate itself completely to the development of new technologies.
When talking about Urbanism, you must also talk about the resources you have available. With the initial impulse, a large part of the natural resources was exhausted, as the emergency measures obtained a free pass in that first stage. However, as part of the planning, the buildings were divided into Sections. Each Section dedicates one of its Levels to the cultivation of a fundamental resource, also producing organic goods to be commercialized.
Water had been a delicate subject for a while. The seawater was no longer reliable and the groundwater was completely dedicated to the production lines, so it was established that it was the responsibility of each building to guarantee storage from rain, such as the appropriate treatment for the consumption of its residents. Energy capsules were the focus of a large percentage of production lines, as they were the main new sources of energy, as the scarcity of the oil made its use unviable.
All consumption was controlled and regulated.
Waste has become something as cruel as a crime.
This world is presented to you by our main character, Manhattan, with the purpose of giving you, the reader, one personal view of how would it to be living in the New World. You must live in the city in order to truly know it, and I would be glad that you appreciate this journey as much as I did while writing it. With all this said, we are ready to meet our character and her view of the City of the Future.
Please, enjoy the view.
The New World
Another day began in the New World, and no one could convince Manhattan that that day would change her entire life. Not when the coffee prepared by the integrated system of her house was better than ever and the new system update had left your furniture with a definition never seen before. She should remember to mention that to the Creators in your daily report.
The notification in the bottom corner of her SPY - a nickname she gave for the Strawberry Pie glasses, the name given to the city's latest augmented reality technology - informed that her route was ready. It meant that the MicroConstructs had already gathered to form a suspended walkway that connected her Section to the Central Section, where she should be in a few minutes.
The short distance between the edifices allowed her to go without the need of a vehicle, but she still picked her motorcycle to go there. You never know what is waiting for you on duty. It had been a few years since she had moved from another Level, but the height still caused chills in Manhattan. Currently, she was a member of Level 3, only two Levels from the top of the great metropolis that was the New World, and a few hundred meters to the lowest.
Manhattan is one of what they called Sentinels, which owns Level 3, a very good one, by the way. The Sentinels have the function of ensuring the smooth functioning of all systems and updates inserted by the Creators throughout the city. They respond to failure notifications made by residents or even by the integrated system itself. They were also responsible for maintenance and reports to the Creators when necessary.
Oh, of course, the Creators. The residents at Level 01. With a very suggestive title, the Creators are who create and develop innovative systems to make life in the New World even better, the most valued function in the city. Separated from the Sentinels only by the Researchers Level, who collect data and information for greater precision and efficiency of the mechanisms developed by the Creators, making them applicable.
The privileged view of the Section needs little of the virtual elements to be breathtaking. The Central edifices are the largest set of buildings in the city, the programmable passages constantly changing according to the routes of the citizens in transit, mostly with no vehicles simply for the pleasure of walking, move the scene as a living organism in operation.
Through SPY, Manhattan watches the large billboards of animated news and events advertisements that would happen in the next days. She should take some time to attend on that last one, she thought, as she enters the Sentinels' main room. Without any other command, her SPY had already marked the billboard event on her calendar, as a reminder. Perfect.
The first thing she noticed was that someone had redesigned the room. In the corner, she saw two of her colleagues standing thoughtfully in front of the MicroConstruct control monitor, which controls the environment disposition. On that day, the environment was in the form of a large circular room with colorful puffs, a great contrast to the previous day, when a long conference table filled the place.
If you are wondering how it works, it is simpler than it looks. MicroConstruct software is a common 3D design software, configured for the environment to which it corresponds. The shape of the rooms and furniture are designed, as well as their colors and properties and, then, compiled for the hardware, which, in this case, are the MicroConstructs themselves. Microconstructs are programmable particles that gather according to the design made on the software, assuming the form of furniture, walls, and vehicles, literally whatever you want. The technology has not yet overcome gravity, but the connection between the particles was so strong that it allowed the creation of routes like the one she used to go to the Central Section. The MicroConstructs were used for rooms and furniture as well as for the rest of the city, as transit routes and temporary buildings. The difference for external areas is that MicroConstructs are controlled by the Central. Manhattan seriously suspects that the software crew has already found a way of the system works mostly automatically.
By that time, her colleagues had already made the puffs shine through everyone's SPY whenever they were occupied. The integration of MicroConstructs to the SPY system generated results that are more interesting every day.
But their fun would not last much longer. A notification appeared on one of the big billboards of the room as, Manhattan knew, in the SPY of all Sentinels.
Technical failure, Level 196, Section C21. Great. Level 196 is one of the production Levels. Failures there were rare, considering that only a few people go down there. The part that was not that great was that they have to work with limited time. Failures in the production lines stop the entire line, which, when the safety margin, established by the Creators for situations like this, runs out, the entire production is affected and an entire Section is harmed.
Three of the Sentinels in the room quickly gathered their equipment while downloading the failure diagnosis to their SPY. Manhattan approaches the monitors to observe the status of the repairs. They would need as much information as they could gather for that day's report, problems in production levels were always a subject of concern to the Creators.
Nothing extraordinary, until... two other failures? Also at Level 196, but in Sections C23 and C26. It was time to check it out by herself.
Manhattan asked three more Sentinels, heading two of them to the C23 and the other one to go with her to the C26. The diagnosis on her SPY informed it was a basic, but unknown, electrical problem. Well, in a few minutes it would not be unknown anymore. Integrated with the city system, the SPY had already traced their route to lower Levels, configuring all MicroConstructs to form fast transit routes to the referred Sections. The timer was already running.
It made little difference to Manhattan that she had made her way through the narrow gaps between those buildings hundreds of times, nothing was like the feeling of watching that set of buildings they called the New World. Huge lines that cut the horizon from down below, where were the lower Levels, to the top that seemed to scrape the sky. All facades in constant motion thanks to the augmented reality features of SPY and MicroConstructs constantly generating new routes and possibilities. The city pulses in the same rhythm of the lives of each one of its residents.
Of course, all they know about the world before the Great Collapse was the fragments of history that survived. However, as she moved among the buildings, Levels, and Sections, Manhattan could not do much but think that what she was living the future.
As they went deeper, the narrower the intervals between the constructions became. It was certainly a little suffocating, although I knew that life on the intermediate Levels was by no means harder than the others. The lower Levels... well, they gave chills to anyone. Although, it was not designed for humans to inhabit. Down there the only things were the machines and robots producing all kinds of goods for the proper functioning of the New World.
As they reach the right Section, the SPY guided the Sentinels to where was the fault, with a red dot on their view indicating the path they should take. When looking closer, the problem had become obvious: one of the cylinders of the energy capsule that fed the entire Section was missing.
The good part is that they always carried new capsules and components for maintenance procedures, so they had solved the problem in less than an hour. Nevertheless, the time of the maintenance and returning to the Central was enough for another service notification, from the Section next to the one they had just left, the C27, to appear in the bottom corner of her SPY, which was quickly answered by her colleagues. It was all weird.
No other notifications came during the rest of the day, but Manhattan could not get that question out of her mind. Failures in the production Sections happened, but they were rare. Now, four of them on the same day? During the final meeting, all Sentinels expressed their concerns, as the problems they found in all Sections were very similar.
There must be a reason for what was happening. Confirming her suspicions of something wrong, on that day the failures notifications happened again. Once again, small flaws in the distribution of energy. Small but crucial components missing, all in different Sections than the previous ones. It was when returning from the fifth notification when Manhattan made that decision.
They only contact the upper Levels directly in cases of extreme importance, but there was nothing else to be done.
Her SPY detected the urgency and programed a new route for the MicroConstructs in an instant. Manhattan praised the Creators for each code in that system. The city seemed to collaborate with their causes, the Sentinel could not even imagine how infinitely more complicated it would be not to have those systems in their daily lives.
As she reached the Level 01, the Section's integrated system greeted her according to her SPY ID and one of the Creators was already waiting for her, in response to the notification sent as soon as she had traced her route there.
Manhattan explained the situation to the Creator. Since the number of failures had been greater than the previous day, she feared it would be a problem with more serious consequences than the Sentinels could handle. The Creator only requested the failure diagnostics, ensuring that they would be carefully analyzed. He just added that he would be in touch soon, with directions of what should be done.
Even though the problem was not on her hands anymore, Manhattan's night was far from peaceful. The next day, when the first notification of those same failures arrived, the Sentinel asked her colleagues to cover her. She had a different task.
It was an idea. It could not be a coincidence all failures happened in such close Sections. But what if it was not a coincidence? Perhaps mapping the notifications would lead her to the answer she was looking for.
Mapping everything was simple with the SPY’s help. As the city is organized in lines according to the letters of the common alphabet and numbered columns, the task was much simpler, and again I thanked the Creators of the past for their meticulous planning. Once finished, she sat down to analyze the result.
The Sections reached on the first day were all on line C. On the second day, all over the line D. The four notifications received on that day had been… on the line E. On all days, the Sections reached were between columns number 21 and 27. Those of that day and the first day happened in the same columns…
There was a pattern.
They were not just failures; the pattern seems like a message.
Or maybe Manhattan was thinking too much about it. However, it would not make any harm to check, right?
She would find little useful information around, so she decided to ask for help. Ah! The scholars’ Level. It was only a few Levels down and, certainly, the language department could confirm if there was a message hidden in those patterns. She asked SPY to schedule her route and notify the Section. She would be on her way as soon as possible.
In less than an hour, Manhattan was received at the Level of scholars. It was always a surprise how quiet was the place. It was as if the building reflected the intellectuality of its residents.
The lady who received her in the language Section seemed genuinely interested in her questions. After analyzing the mapping done by the Sentinel, she asked her SPY to make notes on the Sections.. Once she finished, the scholar just shook her head and asked her to return on the next day, which would be time enough to provide a more concrete answer.
Manhattan barely could contain her excitement when she turned back to the Central. At the same moment, she received a request from the Creators, for a personal report about the new failures, scheduled for the following day.
It was already the fourth day of the strange notifications, but when Manhattan arrives at the Central, she decided to go to the language Section first, to verify if the scholar had found any meaning in the notifications pattern. Then she would present the report to the Creators as required.
Not that it would take too long. The expression on the lady's face when Manhattan arrived in the Section already denounced that the pattern had no meaning to the area of her studies. Then, there was only the hope that the Creators had an answer to her problem.
Four more notifications that day. This time in the same columns of the last one, what was that? She had not done much to hide her concern while making her way to present the report to the Creators. Any other problem before had cost so many days of work.
It was already natural for her to deliver reports. As long as the society was based on the functions of each one who composed it, there would always be a lot to report. Perhaps the constant communication made it work so smoothly. She remembered her training where…
Wait. The training. They were trained in many more areas than just those necessary for their daily lives; a Sentinel should be familiar with several aspects to be effective in its position. One area of that training had been in coding. What had she learned about the old ways of programming? Maybe... Maybe she was right about the pattern of notifications forming a message. Perhaps just the language was wrong.
Manhattan ended its report with renewed hopes. Although her colleagues of the control Section were likely to get the job done, the Sentinel decided to go another way. If that were some specific code, Level 01 programmers would be able to identify easily.
Her expectations fought with the fear of a new frustration. The route to the right Section passed through familiar points, such as the regulation Section, where, at Level 1, laws were created, easily recognizable by its larges windows that were supposed to express the transparency of the work that was done inside there. Each construction translated its function as if the city also expressed itself. The New World was like a huge and complex three-dimensional matrix, where each intersection contributed to a completely stable system.
The large minimalist building was programmed to show things you like through your SPY. At that moment, the facade displayed a plate of delicious pancakes, which made Manhattan realize how hungry she was. She should have forgotten to have lunch.
The Sentinel skipped the formalities. Luck of her, the enthusiasm was reciprocated; challenges are always welcome in that Section. Just a few moments later, three more programmers were analyzing the patterns brought by Manhattan. They called her into one of the rooms to explain again what she was looking for with that marks made over the Sections. Only took her one more explanation about the failure notifications and a few silent moments while the programmers were doing some kind of code over their SPY view for them to discover a possible meaning to those unusual notification pattern.
They were forming letters.
Binary, according to one of the programmers. The language used by the world's first technologies. A range of seven different Sections was reached in line, which was not useful at all, but by including the previous Sections, a binary character could be read. The markings for the first and third days formed the letter S. The second letter O. SOS. A cry for help.
But… from who?
That day's notifications formed an S again, so everyone in the room agreed that the next day the failures should make an O pattern again. Nobody knew what that request for help meant, but Manhattan's relief at finding at least one answer has already renewed their spirits for seeking a solution. Her way out was marked by a sequence of thanks from Manhattan.
Manhattan took her notes to Central the next day and, again, asked them to cover her during the repair calls. On that day, she would wait for the notifications.
As soon as the first two of them arrived, the appointments that she was expecting coincided. It seemed like they had found the answer. They found the pattern. There were still three notifications to be sure, two of which arrived just a few hours later, in the places they supposed to, and Manhattan kept all her hopes that they were on the way.
However, the last notification never came. No, no, no, She could not go back to step one at that moment. Unless…
The Sentinel got up fast. She might be home a little later than usual, but nothing would stop her from patrolling the Level and checking the surroundings. Just for a warranty.
She left quickly, ignoring all questions about where she was going. Her SPY already guaranteed that the route would be ready soon, right to lower Levels. Perhaps she would miss the final meeting, but she could accompany the results through her SPY. In any case, her contribution would be much more relevant if she had any results going down there.
The first impression on arriving there was that everything was operating normally. As a last trial, she would go to the Section from which the last notification should have come. Manhattan took cautious steps on the Section’s direction, wondering what she would find.
But she did not have to go that far. Her heart rate accelerated, alerting her SPY of her tension when she heard that heavy breathing ahead. Were they… people? Yes, definitely people, poorly dressed and tired looking. There were three in total, one of them looking unconscious. Manhattan asked her SPY to alert the medical care Level that the situation would need their services: it was an emergency.
She tried to speak to them, but when they noticed her presence, despair washed over their faces. They said things that Manhattan could not understand and even her SPY could not identify the origin. Were they foreigners? How was it even possible? There were no reports of Foreigners in the New World for at least 30 years. With the Great Collapse, all communication networks went down and all attempts to communicate with other cities were unresponsive. The expeditions sent to collect information about the rest of the world never returned. Little was known about the rest of the planet outside the security borders of the New World.
That would be more complicated than she could have predicted. She tried to make gestures with her arms, telling them that everything was fine, that help was already coming, but her only hope was that she could keep them there until the medical team arrived. Her SPY said they were close, but every second seemed like an eternity.
The long seconds turned into blurs when the medical team entered the space, thanks to Manhattan's SPY location system. The Sentinel's last glimpse of that different people was the terrified look of the one who had tried to speak to her. Only her confidence in the system had left, the sure that they would be treated with the best that the New World could offer.
Manhattan knew that the Creators had been warned. The confirmation of this information arrived when she woke up the next day with a notification from them, requesting her presence at the medical Level in a Section close to the Central.
But the Sentinel was not the only one there. Language scholars seemed to have been there for a while already, apparently making some progress in communicating with the Foreigners. Manhattan's mission there was simply to explain how it had happened. Further explanations would only come to her when, later, scholars were able to gather enough fragments of information to understand who were those people.
They were survivors. They came from a not much distant city, but they were lacking resources, they were all doomed. Therefore, they had gathered a group to try their luck outside there.
Only they survived out a group with almost fifty people.
It was the second city where they asked for help, but the first one had received them in a hostile way, and it was there that most of the group got lost. For this reason, they tried to be more discreet on their second attempt. Raising the Levels seemed risky, if not impossible, so they tried to communicate in whatever way they thought we would understand. When they saw the robots at the producing lines, the idea of using the binary combinations came up. They were supposed to finish the second ask for help on that day, but exhaustion overwhelmed them in the moment Manhattan found them between the Sections.
They were insistent on asking for help, according to the scholars. All they wanted to do was save their people, rescue those left behind. One chance was all they were asking for. To the surprise of Manhattan, the Creators responded that they would seek to form a new expedition group to try to rescue as many people as possible, as well as there would be a place for them in the New World.
Soon, it was all about the people were talking in the city. The expedition would be voluntary and should leave in two days, heading for the unknown. On the first line of the volunteers’ list, there was the name of Manhattan. She did not know where that determination came from when volunteering herself. Something inside her had so much sure that things would be different from that moment. They were not alone, there were people outside. Maybe new technologies, maybe another new world.
Perhaps they would find a new city of the future. Perhaps they would build themselves a new one.
Questions went through her head as she watched the sunset again in the New World horizon. The shining buildings seemed to greet her. Much of what they lived was thanks to the city once designed by the hands of people they call the Creators. The way they thought and worked, their structure, and perspective. It would no longer exist for Manhattan in only a few days.
But it was time to expand the city of the future a little more, and she was ready for it.
As we could see with the New World, urbanism is one of the most affected social structures with the advance of technology because it is the expression of people's lives as a society. Therefore, when a change happens in life, the city adapts itself, in order to stay functional, as the portrait of its population.
However, as Manhattan goes around the Levels and Sections, we are able to realize how the city has great relevance on the built of its residents’ lifestyle and values. The creation of a new city creates also a completely new perspective of life, and it have to be remembered.
It is not the end of Manhattan’s story. She is in this moment facing a whole world of new possibilities. She was dreaming about a different life as once Fritz Lang did when looking to the tall buildings of the Manhattan borough, the same buildings that inspired Metropolis and lots of the cities of the future after it. I believe this is what we are facing right now on our concepts of a city of the future and we must be careful about it.
In the last decades, urban studies have divided themselves into a large variety of works to transform science fiction into reality in our cities. However, these studies generally address so singular topics themselves that plenty of them fit the same scenarios of unique configurations for the city of the future.
It is time for us to decide on what kind of city we want to live in the future.
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