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3 1 Cities and Imagination The separation between past, present, and future is only an illusion, although a convincing one. —Albert Einstein, letter to Besso family, quoted in Bernstein 1989 This chapter starts by imagining the future. The protagonist stumbles upon four hypothetical futures while riding the New York subway. The last of his stops takes him to Hybrid City, where he engages in dialogue with a city planner. His unexpected detour from the daily commute challenges his assumptions about city planning. The way we think about the future has implications for the questions we ask and the ways we search for solutions. The future we see is constrained by our observations of the past. But the future can look quite different from the past, as is evident from the “great acceleration” of the past half-century. Our imagination of the future can transform the way we live in the present. The pink haze of New York City’s twilight, reflected by high-rise buildings , is the only element of the outer landscape perceptible to Max, who, absorbed in his thoughts, is headed to the subway. The mayor’s budget meeting has left him quite excited, but also unsettled. The mayor announced that over the next three years, he will invest in the creation of a model city. “A city”—the mayor attempted a­ metaphor—“that thinks like a planet. Next week, I’ll hold a town hall meeting with citizens, scientists, and planners.” And then he added, 4 Chapter 1 before dismissing his budget committee, “I am not looking for answers. We need new questions.” New questions? Max wonders, his mind caught momentarily by the changing shades of blue above the crisp skyline before he descends underground to board his train. Hybrid Cities “Where am I?” wonders Max as he exits the train at what he’d expected to be his destination. “This is not the right station. Did I get off too early? Too late?” Each evening, Use Less, one of the panels in Jackie Chang’s iconic Signs of Life mosaics, blazoned on the wall of the mezzanine, welcomes Max to the L platform. But today it’s not there. And where he’d expected to see the yellow, beige, and brown Lorimer St. sign, he instead reads, Grand St. Even more surprising is the unfamiliar silence. The doors slide closed and the train departs before Max has time to consider reboarding, so he starts to walk down the platform. Then he wonders, “Is this a dream?” The question reassures him, frees him to keep walking and thinking. What would happen if one day he exited the subway to find a city different from the one he knew? What would it look like? How would it feel? And then an ice-cold gust of wind slaps his face. He is outside. “It’s freezing here!” Max exclaims to no one—or to himself. “When did it get so cold?” The streets around him are dark. And quiet. Glacial City Max passes a flashing monitor beside the subway exit. Error, it pulses, and beside it are the blanks of a dead digital thermometer. The streetlights are flickering; the roads are empty. A single truck occupies the intersection, abandoned. “Where am I?” Max sees a rusted-out news­ paper box. He shines his phone’s flashlight through the box’s shattered window. The front page of a weathered newspaper is dated June 8, 2116. Max picks through the shards of glass to retrieve it. Headlines declare that a new species of aquatic bird has been sighted on the frozen waters Cities and Imagination 5 near Manhattan. There’s a photograph with the story, showing what looks like emperor penguins. “That’s impossible,” he thinks. An icy blast rips the newspaper from Max’s hands and then blows him down the street after it. The cold is real, brutal. More and more anxious , Max picks up his pace; he almost runs now. He sees the next subway entrance ahead and ducks into it. Downstairs, a layer of ice, inches thick, covers the floor. The rails aren’t even visible—they’re completely flooded and frozen over. There are no trains here, and none will arrive. No trains, no lights, no evidence of life—only the artifacts of humanity remain to mark its passing. Max tries but can’t stop his teeth from chattering. He stares into the blind hole of the tunnel, and nothing but long, cold darkness stares back...


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MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
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