Megalopolis

Last week I had the pleasure of attending another Chicago Council on Foreign Affairs event specifically for Young Professionals. In this case it was a conversation between all-around-urban-intellectual Greg Lindsay and architect Jeanne Gang on nothing less critical than “The Future of Cities.”

Lindsay just cowrote the book Aerotropolis: How We’ll Live Next with John Karsada, which at its most basic is about the coming airport-centric design and planning that will determine the future of cities and the course of twenty-first century urbanism. But even that mouthful of a description doesn’t really do the book justice. Reading Geoff Manaugh’s interview of Lindsay (and also, Lindsay’s of Manaugh), puts the book in a new light and raises a whole variety of additional interpretations to Aerotropolis‘ main theories.

The talk, however, did not focus solely on Lindsay’s book. After a rather stilted introduction from a local Boeing representative, Lindsay launched into a brief overview of the cities of the future. In the next twenty years more “urban fabric” will be created than in the entire rest of human history. And none of them will look like Chicago. They will be born into nowhere, separated from their surrounding regions. Continue reading

H.U.D. not C.H.U.D.

In Las Vegas, they’ve gone underground.

Not in the “off-the-grid” sense, nor in any kind of futuristic post-apocalyptic-themed bunker casino (an idea that I have just now patented), but in an actual we’ve-lost-our-homes-and-live-in-a-tunnel way.

An entrance to the tunnels underneath Las Vegas, Nevada.

The population is estimated to be over 1,000. People who have lost their homes and their livelihoods have instead converted the tunnels – both flooded and dry – into their homes, milk crates to keep their things out of the water. The furniture all comes second-hand; they look for new things at night, to avoid unwanted attention – “it’s kind of embarrassing”.

Steven and Kathryn's 400 sq. ft. "bungalow," deep beneath Las Vegas.

There’s a shadow economy at work here, beyond the obvious gray market in housing. For one of the underground dwellers, his source of income is credit hustling for left behind slot chips and jackpots (he claims to have once found $997).  It’s scraps from above, the remnants of a once proud civilization, that sustain this particular mode of urban life. And all the while, one can’t help but channel Taibbi:

With the $13-plus trillion we are estimated to ultimately spend on the bailouts, we could not only have bought and paid off every single subprime mortgage in the country (that would only have cost $1.4 trillion), we could have paid off every remaining mortgage of any kind in this country-and still have had enough money left over to buy a new house for every American who does not already have one.

It’s an unintentional hackerspace – a separation from everyday life borne of necessity, not desire – but nevertheless it achieves some sort of independence.

Can this be taken further? Can our underground and derelict spaces be reused for isolated groups and others who just want to be left alone? Are subterranean environments appropriate for sustained living? Let’s see how long these tunnel folks can go unmolested by the law first.

Meanwhile, in Germany, the “House of Contamination” art exhibit accidentally mocks this way of living.

An aerial shot of a room in the “House of Contamination” installation.

A “life-size maquette of a cultural centre that facilitates cross-fertilisation between the arts?” No, an all-too real representation of modern low living. Perhaps if “House of Contamination” was trying to make a larger socio-economic point. But it appears to just be ‘slumming it’. Read some damn Scalzi.