For Evanston’s 2009 annual Custer Street Fair, the fair featured a “green” theme. I volunteered to do a 5 ft. by 18 ft. mural while visitors watched. The mural depicted my image of how the same location might look 11 years hence, in the year 2020. A sign next to the mural directs people to this web site so they can read the following elaboration of what they’re seeing.
An Explanation of “EVANSTON 2020”
The mural depicts a 270-degree panorama of the intersection of Custer and Main in Evanston, viewed from the Southwest corner in the summer of the year 2020. It’s one man’s view of what an environmentally responsible future would look like at street level. The fun of this exercise in prognostication is that most people who see it will still be around ten years from now to see what I got right and what I got wrong. Here’s an elaboration of what you see in the mural. You can see the client’s testimonial here.
In 2020, Main Street has been converted to a pedestrian mall. Asphalt and concrete have been replaced with permeable pavers that allow grass to grow up between the stones. This makes the surfaces appear like lawns when seen at an oblique angle. It takes a lot of pressure off the storm sewers and promotes tree growth but requires the city to mow the streets and sidewalks half the year, producing a lot of compost. Walk surfaces are more permeable and greener than roadways. Most people walk or use a bewildering variety of bikes, trikes, pedi-cabs, skateboards and other human powered devices in good weather to transport purchases, kids and pets. This reduces car traffic radically. In bad weather they use Twikes, a hybrid tricycle/electric car ( dark green, emerging from the overpass, center right) or cars powered by compressed air (orange, under the overpass). Parking meters have gone the way of pay toilets.
Public transportation features a CTA monorail of 4 to 6 person pods which delivers the rider to any station in the system via an individual route computed on board by voice command (see station just right of the overpass). The El tracks below have become a pedestrian/jogger/ biker trail. Pocket gardens of greenery abound, as well as public art, benches and fountains. The vertical surfaces of many buildings are planted in tapestries of living colors, their tops overflowing with roof gardens and sometimes wind mills. Planting trees on one’s birthday is a popular tradition and there is now fierce competition for planting space. Almost all South facing roofs and awnings feature photovoltaic solar collecting surfaces in elm green, a more efficient color than black.
While fashions of the day are still highly varietal, the dominant preference is for muted, complex, natural colors. American cultural hegemony lumbers on. Most of the world is rapidly adopting the American National Costume; jeans and t-shirts.
At the abutment wall to the right of the overpass is a muralist painting his vision of Evanston in 2030. Nobody takes much interest because the future is less uncertain than back in 2009 and the reputations of those misguided public figures who argued against the urgency of the global environmental crisis have long since been consigned to the dust bin of history.
Neighborhood communication such as lost pet alerts and shopping information are accomplished by European style kiosks on corners (right of center). Hybrid and electric automobiles are sufficiently rare that none would appear in this scene unless it was winter, in which case you’d see a clear plastic membrane vaulting over Main Street, supported by waste hot air from the buildings, protecting pedestrians from the snow and ice. It comes down in high winds or still, sunny days and channels its surface melt water into the earth.
Utility poles and wires are gone; they run under panels in the sidewalk. Street lights have been replaced by knee-high indirect lighting which allows people to see the stars after sunset. From 5,000 feet up at night Evanston appears like a pale blue-green spider’s web. Street signs and traffic signals seem to be suspended in the air over intersections (center) but they’re actually holograms projected from nearby which respond to changing traffic conditions at particular location as well as to the city-scale traffic flow.
Urban wildlife abounds, particularly birds. Deer, coyotes, racoons and other potential traffic hazards are restricted to wildlife corridors with ultrasound barriers.
Most people wear a variety of multi-function electronic wrist cuffs and ear pieces which serve as a combination wrist watch, health monitor, medical record file, emergency call, laptop with internet access, picture phone, video/still camera, entertainment delivery system, GPS navigator, TV remote, remote keys for their house, car and bike, can opener, nail file, phaser and Swiss Army knife. It’s recharged by micro pluses created when walking by generators in their shoes. An unfortunate consequence is the appearance of schizophrenia in people conversing with unseen friends, laughing at unseen video projections or rocking out to unheard music and occasionally walking into things.
In the distance can be seen ‘green architecture’ high rise condos, apartments and office buildings in which each unit has a garden. They are autonomous and independent of the power grid. In the air over Evanston are rigid dirigibles which have replaced delivery trucks for resupplying businesses from above. They also do the heavy lifting for construction. But they only work in good weather. A more expensive alternative is the VTOL (Vertical Take Off/Landing), a cross between a fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft (taking off at center distant and in cruising mode, right quarter). High above Main Street (center top) is a virtually silent private aircraft, an electric powered glider.
On a socio-political level, the vaunted American work ethic is in serious trouble. People no longer live to work but work to live. Life is slower. There is a much greater emphasis on leisure, family time and the quality of life. Consumer culture attitudes are seen as distasteful and people are less easily suckered by advertising. In fact, all outdoor advertising has been eliminated by a consumer revolt when society decided that advertising promotes excessive materialism and dubious values in children and erodes the virtue of honesty through hyperbole and exaggeration. All exposure to advertising is initiated by the consumer. Stores only display their name and street numbers but restaurants do display their menu on the door.
Gun owners have recovered from their excessive paranoia and now observe common sense restrictions. Drugs are legally regulated as in the Netherlands, eliminated about half of all crimes and the addict population is aging away rapidly. Genetics and stem cell research have created more medical miracles. Government now sees itself as the necessary balance to rapacious Capitalism rather than its lackey. Fundamentalism in any religion is now universally regarded as a dangerous psychopathology. Crime is regarded as primarily a byproduct of ignorance and poverty. Prisons have become rehab centers. All prisoners are required to work so as not to burden taxpayers. Schools have become community centers after hours and parenting skills are considered a core curriculum subject because of the long term effects of poor parenting on society. Education is a national priority due to the pressure of China and India which produce more profoundly gifted students each year than we have children.
The economic competition from these two emerging giants has had the positive effect of reducing American self-satisfaction and xenophobia so that we have the humility to learn a few things from other countries. Travel has actually decreased because of the ease of virtual travel, and because of the growing realization of the environmental effects of aircraft exhaust in the upper atmosphere and the effects of rapid shifts in time zones on human bodies. Society has also matured and calmed down about sex. Porno is passé and children grow up in a less sexually charged environment. Fox News is gone, having stepped over a line and been convicted of inciting hate crimes. The rate of social and technological change is ever increasing. This creates the next big social hurdle; an increasing and socially dangerous chasm between those who embrace change, generally the younger or better educated and those who are frightened by it, generally older or less educated. But there is some enlightenment evident; the death penalty has been eliminated for all crimes except littering and singing off key in public.
NOTE: Most futurists, such as H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, have indulged their freedom to imagine technologies which don’t exist without having to invent them. This might cause us to feel we need to wait and hope for some amazing new discoveries to save us from our past mistakes or make things better. But nothing in this mural is imaginary, speculative or awaiting discovery. All of these technologies and cultural options exist somewhere today. All I did was to assemble them. We simply need to have the good sense to put them to use. Given enough money and political will, such a transformation could be accomplished practically overnight.
This image reflects the vision and preferences of one man, so if you don’t like it, make up your own. The whole idea is to get us thinking about what we want. The future will be what we collectively envision.