A great site to lose several hours browsing is the rather wonderful Tales of Future Past (http://www.davidszondy.com/future/futurepast.htm). It’s a site dedicated to those wonderful predictions of the future that we used to get, the ones where robots would do all the work, leaving us free to commute between the planets while knocking back nutrient pills and blasting things with our radio pistols.
What does this have to do with London? Well, there are a couple of pages dedicated to future visions of the old city:
Unfortunately (?), neither of these visions really came to pass. Actually, Future London isn’t that much different to the London these people already had. This is quite a conservative city at heart. When the medieval city was destroyed in the Great Fire of London, what did we do? We rebuilt it with the same layout. Admittedly this was partly for complicated legal reasons concerning land ownership, rights of way and suchlike, but plenty of historians have seen it as a missed opportunity.
Several predictions of London’s future spring to mind that stick with this conservatism. For instance, the Thunderbirds episode ‘Vault of Death’ showcased a version of London that owed as much to the 19th century as to the 21st, with its caped policemen, cockney lags and permanently gloom-shrouded city. The same basic concept appears in Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century (“Watson, what is this “Google Image Search?”) and even the Judge Dredd universe’s Brit-Cit owes something to this model.
So, in a sense, these predictions have turned out to be fairly correct. For all Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone might preach about how go-ahead and exciting this city is, it’s also a city that’s probably going to look more-or-less the same a hundred years from now as it did a hundred years ago. Okay, a few buildings here and there will change, and there will be some additions to the infrastructure. But could you imagine, say, Piccadilly Circus disappearing, or a motorway being laid through Charing Cross?
(Parenthesis: Actually, both of those were seriously proposed in the 1960s. Fortunately, they were knocked on the head – say what you like about the Victorian city, it beats the pants off a concrete flyover)
So what can we expect the city to look like, say, fifty years from now? Futurology isn’t a very easy science, largely because it’s reliant on so many different factors. Technology, politics, war, economics, the environment and a whole passel of other issues can affect the course of history. So I’m going to be very, very careful with my predictions.
1. More tall buildings
This is a pretty safe bet. While other cities have embraced the skyscraper, we’ve given it, at best, a slightly wary handshake. It’s not that we don’t like them, it’s just that we would prefer to keep them at arm’s length.
Hence, most of the big skyscrapers are restricted to the Isle of Dogs (I’m sure you love dogs too). But a few have crept in here and there. The Swiss Re building (or Gherkin), for instance. And then there’s the Shard , or the London Bridge Tower, or whatever they’re officially calling it, which is under construction on the South Bank. And the Bishopsgate Tower, the Beetham Tower, the Heron Tower, &c, &c.
With the city becoming ever more densely populated, taller buildings will almost certainly become the norm. Which is a shame – I like the fuddy-duddy old skyline of church spires and 19th century offices.
Still, at least most of these new projects are architecturally interesting. I mean, the Guy’s Tower, who on earth planned that and thought it looked good?
Well, for starters, we’re going to need a lot more of it. I mean, those big buildings will house more workers. And, if you’ll permit me a little economic speculation, it’s getting less and less affordable to live in London, so those workers will probably have to travel a lot further. Of course, as I’ve expressed before (see https://londonparticulars.wordpress.com/2009/02/01/one-rail-only/), it’s difficult to improve transport links in Central London without causing hella troubles. I know several music enthusiasts who are furious that the Astoria in Tottenham Court Road has been shut down to make way for Crossrail (damn its oily hide). That’s just a minor example – imagine the uproar from Big Business if Boris tried to ram a high speed rail link through the Shard or One Canada Square.
So it’s fair to assume that, in Central London at least, we’ll be restricted to Underground. There are a fair few abandoned stations under the city, and there is talk of expanding the Docklands Light Railway to hit a number of these.
Further out, we’ve got the imaginitively-named London Overground (time was when we’d just call one of those a “railway”). This is due to expand, and there are plans to integrate its various sections with each other. Probably the most interesting proposal is the concept of Orbitrail, which will link the bits of the Overground into a giant loop around London. The scheme, admittedly, has its flaws – it misses several of the major existing rail routes out of London and timetabling is difficult when your trains never come to a terminus. However, it can’t be denied that better links are needed around the outside of London – just try getting from Twickenham to Ruislip by rail and see how long it takes you.
There’s also a proposal for a floating airport in the Thames Estuary. I don’t know how practical this is, but it sounds wicked-awesome.
Well, we’re probably going to need another flood barrier – the one we’ve got at the moment is good for now, but with rising sea levels it’s looking like a new and bigger one will be needed downstream. A 2005 proposal suggested one stretching from Sheerness to Southend.
The Thames Water Ring Main is going to be expanded to cope with increasing demands on the city’s water supply. Of course, we could just not build the new barrier and wait for the water to come to us.
Still no word on the robot beefeaters, though.
Search terms that brought people here:
“dalek vs cybermen”, “krystyna skarbek natalie portman”, “royal stafford bone china”, “prostitutes in elephant & castle” (blast, my past career once again comes back to haunt me)