Outsourcing the Future

I suspect that when you think about World’s Fairs, if ever you do, you think about those that have already receded into the modestly distant past. Arguably, the last notable fair held in the US — with apologies to Knoxville and New Orleans — was the unsanctioned New York Fair of 1964-65.

Unsanctioned because that fair did not receive the approval of the Bureau International des Expositions (International Bureau of Expositions, although I suspect the translation was rather self-evident). The fair, of course, proceeded in any case under the leadership of Robert Moses who was not one to take “no” for an answer. For the record, the US ended its membership in the Bureau International des Expositions in June 2001.

World’s fairs and expositions, however, are still held around the globe. Since we tend to get rather little news about international happenings unless they are tragic or otherwise immediately relevant to American affairs, the fairs tend to get little notice. Case in point: I was blissfully unaware until fairly recently that an ambitious and impressive fair was held in Shanghai in 2010, Expo Shanghai. (If you follow the link, you’l be taken to an interactive map from which you can virtually experience the many exhibits at the Expo). And in the tradition of the 1939 New York Fair, the Shanghai Expo featured a sizable “Pavilion of the Future.”

General Motors, the corporation that sponsored the original Futurama in 1939 and its sequel in 1964, is apparently not altogether out of the business of shaping the vision of transportation for the world of tomorrow. At the Shanghai Expo, GM debuted its EN-V concept car pictured below. The EN-V is equipped with a sophisticated navigation system that is intended to render it virtually accident proof. In this it shares in a vision already articulated in the 1939 Futurama which predicted the appearance of cars which would be kept at safe distances from each other by radio control while careening down as yet unbuilt interstate highways.

What’s more, the car, if we can call it that (and I don’t mean that disparagingly), is set to play an important role in a working “city of the future,” the Tianjin Eco-City, a joint effort by the governments of China and Singapore. If you click the image below, you’ll be taken to a slide show of Eco-City concept drawings.  The story linked just above gives this brief description:

“Located on the outskirts of one of China’s largest existing metropolises, the Tianjin Eco-City was conceived as a large-scale prototype for sustainable, high-density communities. A reliance on renewable energy sources and mass transit are key elements in its environmentally-friendly design.

But even though its creators are planning for 90 percent of its eventual population of 350,000 to get around town using a light rail system, there will still be a need for individual point to point transportation, and that’s where GM comes in.”

It’s a long way from realization, but I’ve got to say, it’s an impressive project.

It would seem that we have out-sourced the future.

At least we’re working on productivity.

3 thoughts on “Outsourcing the Future

  1. These kind of projects make one wonder how much our “visions of the future” are educated by romantic sci-fi and how much is truly pragmatic. When I look at those cars I see mostly the former.

  2. I worked with a group of visiting teachers from Shanghai and marvelled at their politeness when taken through some of the “State of the art” school buildings here in Toronto. After the day tour, the teachers shared with me pictures of Shanghai’s modern facilities- truly awesome spaces. – I would drive one of these vehicles! Thanks for posting, from Ali in Toronto

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