Thank you, Science! Thank you, Zemeckis!
Okay, so maybe anti-gravity and cold fusion was a bit ambitious. The far-off tech of Back to the Future II is sadly nowhere to be found in this year of our Lord. What do we have in our tomorrow world of today? Lots of gadgets that make Star Trek feel a far more accurate indicator of trending tech. With as much as Steve Jobs watched the show, this might have been more self-fulfilling prophecy than prediction.
The endless marketing and manufacture of iPhones and Androids represent a selfish, material side of civilization. On the other hand, these devices have helped chip away at the corporate media monopoly over information. Time was, having the latest tech fix was the premiere selling point. Now, just the idea of staying connected minute by minute to ongoing events and your comrades engaged in them – this has become advertisers’ main focus.
The America Dream of suburban life was marketed as quite the opposite. The nuclear family was all about getting away from the dirt and diversity of urban life. Generations later, branded isolationism has magnified self-obsession and violent school-shooter types like no other nation on earth. Long dead is the Dream, and the first generation to grow up on the internet is well aware of this fact.
We moved out of the soul-sucking suburbs to labor away into student debt and low-paying jobs, but at least we could ride our bikes to work and enjoy our choice of craft beer for happy hour. And while we complained our jobs we tuned-in to uprisings and strife around the world in places like Tehran, Cairo, Istanbul, Ferguson, Madison, London, and Hong Kong.
Back to the Future promised flying cars by 2015. Instead, we still have city streets choked with car traffic despite efforts to build effective bicycle and transit infrastructure. While some still insist streets are for cars, social justice warriors of recent years have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, when the masses shout ‘Whose streets? OUR streets!‘ they are quite correct.
Many livable street bloggers have made much fanfare of the recent freeway shut-downs happening across the nation as part of the broad-based #BlackLivesMatter movement born from the murders of Michael Brown and Eric Garner this summer.
From L.A. Progressive: “Blocking freeway traffic with bodies certainly heightens the urgency of the protestors’ cause. And while their preferred target creates a hassle for a good many commuters, and might seem less relevant than city halls or police headquarters, freeways are historically appropriate venues for today’s protests. They have fractured American race relations since 1956, when Congress passed the Interstate Highway Act.
The act unleashed armies of bulldozers on American cities, gutting entire neighborhoods to superimpose raw concrete upon city landscapes. For better or for worse, freeways emerged as the centerpiece of 20th century urbanism in the United States, clearing the pedestrian bustle of streets and sidewalks in favor of garages, drive-ins, shopping malls, and parking lots.
While highway construction nurtured the growth of white suburban enclaves, it devastated urban communities of color. In Southern cities like Nashville, Charlotte, Atlanta and Kansas City, highway planners were often in league with white supremacist organizations as they designated black neighborhoods for destruction.“•
Protest sign, early 70s.
From Street|Smart: “These aren’t exactly Tahrir nor Taksim Squares, large spaces at a central convergence point for all the city making for natural gathering places. Those occur in still urban places that promote gathering rather than dispersal.
We’ve replaced the city, and its inherent ability to foster progress through social and economic exchange, with a car-dependent, isolated anti-city fragmented by these hulking concrete structures – a passive aggressive form of oppressing dissent, by disconnecting and dispersing people before they can ever get the idea that something is wrong. Of course, humanity is remarkably adaptable, using the internet as a substitute tool for organizing.
The highways are the centerless epicenter of American life. What better place to disrupt? What else better represents the very literal as well as underlying divide, displacement, and disenfranchisement, which is also why protests if and when they register on a profound cultural level, have historically been the necessary fount of upheaval when faced with variable forms of oppressive stultification?” •
There is irony upon irony here. The urban-mega freeways meant to divide communities while forcing a monopoly on transportation have proved the weakest choke point of a racist, capitalist system of all. The gadgets meant to distract and numb our minds have proved to be the very tool through which much democratization and dissemination of information is taking place.
While we still haven’t collectively grasped what is happening in American cities as being the same as Istanbul or Cairo, we’re getting there. American urban streets will increasingly be dominated by people and protest. The age of automobile dominance is dwindling while the age of systemic racism is being challenged.
The future city of 2015 won’t have flying cars and hover boards, but it will have bicycles and it will have Twitter.
To close, from the always inspiring Jacobin: “We look to the socialist cities of the past and those to come. We aim to reclaim the city as a space for struggle and solidarity in pursuit of needs and wants: public housing, parks, decent work, and plentiful leisure – with the possibility of an occasional escape. To realize the city’s emancipatory promise will require mass movements led by workers, challenges to property rights in its many forms, and feminist reimaginings of urban space and work.“•