Building Up not Out: an Urban Future

Future Upward, ho?The suburban lifestyle is a predicament that has established many of the differences between European and Japanese lifestyles versus those of us in America. After getting rid of all of those pesky natives, the New World was an open expanse of vast land to be used up by relatively few people. Where folks in Europe and Japan had been laying claim to their land for years, we were suddenly presented with an overwhelming supply. Never to be outdone, Americans would not let a little thing like lack of demand equate to unused land, we simply decided we would have larger plots each. A few hundred years later, circa just after World War II, while Japan and Europe are rebuilding and trying to make the best use of what little space is available, Americans suddenly see themselves blossoming into a very well-to-do middle class. And if nothing else, the middle class needs large lawns to mow.

But enough nostalgia for what got us here: 3 SUVs per garage and a small farm field’s worth of front lawn a piece. I would love to see an urban America which decides to grow up and not out. Imagine…

There is only so much horizontal space on the planet. However, if you add the Z dimension and consider how high our atmosphere is, we can multiple the square footage provided by the equator times the international date line again by up to 10 miles. Given that the current tallest building only .3 miles, one can really get a sense of how much space is out there to work with.

Suburbs require cars. And as long as we’re dependent on cars, we’ll be major polluters, not to mention the problems with obesity that arise from too much dependence on automotive transportation.

But what if we started building on top of what we already have. And not just making apartment complexes higher and building taller skyscrapers, but literally starting new levels of city above the one we have now. I have a vision of a world where buildings are built on top of each other, sidewalks exist on multiple levels, and there’s enough elegant use of glass, mirrors and excellent design and planning to make certain no one ever lives “underground” in some sort of urban basement.

Imagine walking through a mall that is built one or two thousand feet above the surface of the Earth. The floor you’re walking on is completely made of glass and you can see below you the quilt of neighborhoods, skyscrapers and city parks, all multi-layered below you. But from even way up here you can see large portions of the actual surface due to all of the mirrors used. In this mall, and all around you, are large open areas that let the light shine through, not to mention that the structure is almost entirely made of glass, so you never feel hemmed in. From the surface, the very lowest layer of city, looking up at the side of a completely mirrored or glass-lined building you see the reflection of the sky beaming down at you. Taking an elevator up is as natural as taking a train across. You can look down on your neighbors as easily as you might have peered at them over your suburban fence.

I can imagine this is not the ideal situation for many people, particularly those who find the lavish suburban lifestyle that global warming affords to be perfection. Many people don’t like to be “so crammed in” and choose to live more “in the country.” Though what was formerly described as suburbia is getting more and more packed in and people’s idea of “the country” is less and less likely to exist, in turn what used to be considered country is now growing more suburban while actual farms and rural areas are becoming more and more like industrial zones with giant farming taking over.

But if we ever want to have true wilderness we need to stop expanding outward now. And since humans are reproducing like, well, humans, and there is no slow down in site, expanding up seems to be the only option left.

Up Next: As Winter Begins