I tend to focus on how existing cities transform to become more efficient because, with the amount of energy and resources that have been put into existing structures and infrastructure, we must work to improve rather then planning large areas of demolition and new construction. Around the world we have cities, and while there are places we could build dazzling new ones, it would be wasteful and seems unlikely that we could start from scratch. There is an exception to this, a place that requires starting fresh and fascinates me, causing me to dream about what we could do instead with a brand new city … and that is on other planets.
I enjoy reading about the number of private companies working to send people to develop societies on the moon and Mars. To name just a couple for those who are unfamiliar there is Mars One which is trying to create a human settlement by 2023 and is holding an open application for astronauts (Nadia Drake, Wired) and Space X, Ellon Musk’s vision of an 80,000 person society being developed on Mars (Adam Mann, Wired). Part of my interest is that some of the strategies and necessities with these developments will create systems that apply to existing cities. For instance, the compact growth of food and the decentralization of most major utilities, living units will potentially need to be able to support long-term life in limited space, both of which would lead to more efficient cities. But they also interest me in thinking about the Utopian visions for earth cities and how this would be an opportunity to try again. There are more recent visions of the Utopian city with the New Urbanism Movement and the drone proof city, but I am always drawn back to my favorite — Frank Lloyd Wright’s Broad Acres City. In this model, everyone is given an acre, and rather than one large city it is composed of a dozen sprawling communities. There is more focus on the local communities and less of a centralized government or city center to which everyone flocks. I could imagine an approach such as this driving our development on another planet, where we get to try again, so I am drawn to the efforts of these companies to see how they approach the human inhabitance side of their missions.
Thus far, however I have been disappointed with the early renderings of the Mars societies, as they appear to be composed of a repetitive strip of identical landing vessels strung together. Understanding that these missions are still a decade plus away, it is however still disheartening to see such a simple approach to the living conditions and formulation of the society.
Understanding that space will be at a premium, there still doesn’t need to be the assumption that we will assemble the living units and other necessary structures on Earth and land them on the surface. In fact, after seeing the calculations and precision necessary to land the Mars Rover I would imagine setting down units and then aligning them to connect will be difficult. Why not instead follow in the footsteps of Norman Foster’s latest designs for the moon, in which structures are made with a 3D printer (Rebecca Boyle, Popular Science)? This would allow rover-esc builders to land on Mars with whatever other materials are necessary to build the new society.
As I stated, these missions to space are years away and technological advancements between now and then will greatly affect how these societies are planned, so I know much will change, I just would expect to see them start with a more fantastic vision now of what can or will be achieved. Rather then show images that look like the Lunar Lander from the mid 1900’s lets focus on innovations that will make new societies, and in turn our future Earth cities, more efficient to build and formed to better serve our needs.