I like inventing futures. It’s fun to think of what humans will be like a thousand years from now. There are the “macro” factors, like economics, sexuality, art, politics, and starships (of course). But part of the fun is also thinking of the minutiae.
- Will we still drink coffee in the year 3000?
- Will schools and learning be drastically different?
- Would people commute to jobs? (Will people have jobs?)
- How would one a utility upgrade infrastructure, especially if the technology was put in place in the year 2538? (And will we still use the current methods to mark time?)
- Would the environment of a world fundamentally alter the biology of people who lived there?
- Will we still live in neighborhoods?
Even if none of these considerations end up in a finished work, I think it’s still fun to think about, because it helps me live in a constructed world. I wonder how we might (and might not) get out of various challenges we encounter.
A current challenge I live with is population density. I live in Oregon, where the law ensures an urban growth boundary around each city’s perimeter. It is meant to limit sprawl and preserve green spaces, and as a second-generation environmentalist, I applaud it. It achieves long-term preservation through public policy and makes a much more meaningful impact than “do one thing” actions like recycling a tub of yogurt.
There’s a problem with this kind of policy: it runs into human nature.
All politics are local. Even galactic ones.
What happens when you put a boundary around a city? Well, you create neighborhoods with homes spaced six feet apart from each other and streets designed for two-way traffic (barely) with illegally-parked cars at each curb.
You have the neighborhood where I’ve lived for seven years.
Few homes on my street use their garages for their cars. Most use them for storage. And most have two (sometimes three or four cars) per home. Guess where all the cars are parked?! It may seem like a trivial problem, but this kind of congestion is a safety hazard, because it makes it difficult for first responders to save lives, it is dangerous because you have to pull halfway into a cross-street to see if a car is coming your way, and it doesn’t solve the whole “carbon emissions” problem at all. While writing this post, I came upon a blog (Focus on San Antonio by SimplyFineSAHomes.com) discussing this same problem in San Antonio, Texas. Apparently professors at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA)’s Center on Everyday Lives of Families (CELF) published a book in 2012 about the subject: Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century. The blog quotes the book’s co-author Jeanne Arnold (also a professor of anthropology at UCLA): “the typical household had a car parked in the driveway, a car parked in the street and a garage packed with heirlooms, clothes, shoes, bikes, toys, even laundry.”
So, to my mind, the county and city planners are ignoring human nature, and sometimes common sense. One case in point is a planned development in Beaverton, Oregon. Driven by population forecasts, looking into the crystal ball 50 years(!) into the future, planners designated thousands of acres for development, and then annexed the land. According to the Oregonian, the development is meant to accommodate 7,000 housing units; 56% of those units would be high-density town homes or condos. These would exist in the city area; larger lots would be located in the unincorporated county areas. Residents have raised concerns that the roads are already at over-capacity, but another Oregonian article includes this telling quote: “Finding the money for road improvements is one of the biggest hurdles for transportation planning, according to city officials.” (Full disclosure: I freelance for the Oregonian Media Group, but I didn’t work on this series of stories.) And it isn’t helped when voters fail to approve funding road improvements (which is what occurred on Election Day this November).
This is a classic example of multiple needs: housing, transportation, schools, and infrastructure improvement. The process is slow and includes strange designations like Area 6-B. You’ll note that the reportage doesn’t really discuss that people tend to ignore the narrowness of the streets and inadequacy of their home’s storage. I’m all in favor of preserving green spaces and keeping the rural reserves intact. I think that they need to understand that those housing units do not have enough space (or parking spaces) for the families they want to attract. A simple survey, or even city councilors and county commissioners walking through these densely packed neighborhoods would be a wake-up call for how projections and reality do not meet.
As I construct my own worlds with their own challenges, it’s not difficult for me to project that even in civilization with thousands of worlds would still have infrastructure problems. I imagine that certain worlds would be densely packed and others would be more sparsely populated. I think good intentions gone awry would also play a major role, which is clearly the case in Oregon. Economics would play an important role (a galactic civilization would have its 1%ers). As I’ve worked on this blog post, there were several reports of airline customers getting angry with each other because of the unpleasantly-cramped quarters in airplanes. This is directly driven by profits. I remember a time when two people could walk side-by-side down an aisle with the beverage cart in the middle, and I’m not that aged. Airlines have squeezed more seats onto planes and then squeezed seats, inch-by-inch. This happens because we let it happen to ourselves. I speak from experience. I usually think, “oh, it’s just a three-hour flight. Then I’ll be out of here.” A strong consumer response would lead to market changes and legislation. But, with governmental regulation, you’d be back to the “road of good intentions” that we experience with neighborhood planning (and, thus, my attempt to tie this post together).
All politics are local. Even galactic ones.