On dreams and visions and the future

We were debating over cocktails the merits of “being realistic” and “accepting constraints.” My position was: f*ck that. Security is over-rated, past a certain point.

Neil deGrasse Tyson:

10 Rock Star Scientists

Neil Gaimon’s wishes for the new year:

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.

So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.

Make your mistakes, next year and forever.

The Future of The Car in the Financial Times

The US carmaker and its Chinese partner SAIC unveiled in March their vision of a car for 2030: a self-driving, networked bubble-car run on electric power, and small enough to park in your living room. It was called EN-V (for Electric Networked Vehicle) and came in three variants with Chinese names: Xiao (“laugh”), Jiao (“pride”) and Miao (“magic”)

link: FT.com / Reports – From hybrids to self-driving vehicles

It’s worth checking out the whole series about they think the future of the car will be, particularly for very small cars, indeed. If you click the graphic, you get the full effect of how important Asian markets are going to be–even with transit.

Some of the things they are discussing are very interesting indeed. I just imagine my very tall colleague driving around in a bubble car!

The Future Was Better In the Past

It is a truth universally acknowledged among my grouchy social scientist friends (aka economists) that many planners are not particularly good social scientists. This may be because planning isn’t about urban social science. It’s about imagination.

So imagine my glee when I found Paleofuture, a website dedicated to unearthing visions of the future from the past. Oh, do they have highway and train visions, as you can imagine:

The Highway to Russia
Highways by Automation
Disney’s Highway of the Future(you gotta see this one)
the 600 mph train of the future (1901)
the US Senate Monorail
Amphibian Monorail
Space colony with monorail
Aerial Monorail of the future
Speed is the Key (1965)

The seasons of the academic year

Academic life is governed by seasons and, I am afraid, goodbyes. August hits, and it’s moving season. My dear friend and arm’s length student is moving away to a wonderful opportunity in Washington DC, and another, very promising student–the most promising student I have ever had–has chosen to leave our PhD program for another.

In a life as full of goodbyes and moves as mine has been, you learn to live with these things, including being the one left behind. But that doesn’t make you any less sad. You have children so that they will leave you someday, and you teach students for the same reasons. These are not rational things to do. You do them out of gratitude for all the teachers who invested in you, recklessly giving you their time, energy, and ideas, and for the random moments when you get to see your students living up to their potential. As Pascal noted, the heart has reasons which reason can not understand.

We go back to classes again this week and start all over again.

The French President and Paris

The sustainability and urban design world is all abuzz about the results of a design competition sponsored by the French president. The charge to architects: remake Paris. You can see some of the entries here in a slideslow.

There’s a lot of interesting stuff here, from a scholarly point of view. This reminds me of the early days of model cities, where designers behave as though cities are as malleable as clay on a potters’ wheel. I’ve actually written about model cities: in particular, the Futurama and the Democracity from the 1939 World’s Fair, though it’s pretty far from what I work on now. The trouble for all of us with our models is in implementation–the difficulty associated with trying to manage incremental change into cohesive whole. It’s much easier to dispense with what’s here and start over. That would be keen. In my own efforts at self-reform, I would start over at age 24 and make myself a size 4. 🙂 And then there’s the autocracy. There’s nothing wrong with making models, per se, but how many places are there where we could even think about cities entirely remaking themselves, or cropping up as a cohesive whole? There’s Paolo Solieri’s Arcosanti–which is out in the middle of the desert because he couldn’t derive it in the middle of a functioning metropolitan region. Then there are the cities of the UAE, like the carbon neutral city, driven via rigid power hierarchies and volumes of liquid cash.

Which brings me to the point about governance. Can you imagine President Obama sponsoring such an event for an American city? No. The fact that the French president is acting like the mayor of Paris in some regards here is an interesting note on the centrality of cities to federal politics elsewhere in the world. In some respects, this president has been very smart: in highlighting one of the jewels among world cities, he’s basically used the same strategy as leaders in Dubai–he’s trying to sponsor the eco-city of delight–and in so doing, he’s gotten himself a lot of international ink. He’d never get such ink pursuing new federal health care reforms in France.