|"Flower on Elm" by N&D Images Flickr page.|
Note: I had meant to inject these thoughts into the rail-trails post but they eluded me during the time of writing it.
With the rail lines being paved over in lieu of bike trails, I couldn't help but wonder what other transport infrastructures in the future would fall to the wayside, ripe for reuse. What if teleportation became possible or if the flying car finally made its debut? It depends on the paradigm shift in transportation, but if the automobile became outdated, there could be a plethora of abandoned space to be transformed. Think of the parking lots alone that consume 30 to 40 percent of a typical, American downtown or the 60 to 70 percent that surround malls and stadiums.
Grocery stores could fence off their antiquated parking structures, crush and remove the asphalt and plant gardens or build greenhouses, delivering fresh produce from the ground to the shelf in minutes. I-93 and I-95 could be rebuilt as tracks for high speed meg-lev trains, zipping from city to city in minutes instead of hours. Cities, no longer worried about a snow removal budgets or building and maintaining parking areas, could refashion parking garages into legit skateboard and BMX parks. Architects from all over New England could try their hand at designing next season's botanical garden that encompasses Elm St. between Bridge and Granite, creating a Brazilian inspired, micro rain forest in the summer or a desolate tundra in the winter. Dog sleds full of laughing children would pass by city hall every 30 minutes.
Smart urban design theory has relied on creating reflexive and proactive systems within cities, infrastructures that can be tensed and expanded upon, many with built in stopgaps to yield foreseeable development. In a post-automotive world, the American city has another chance to rebuild a set of veins and arteries (I don't see sporting a good walk to a local store or keeping a tightly knit neighborhood going out of fashion) but what about the endless sprawl reaching into the woods and deserts? The small towns and planned communities that were propped up on four wheels that never foresaw an end to the auto-transit age? Without significant revenue, their antiquated circulation systems may choke and die, never to be rebuilt or re-imagined. Town hall meetings might take place where seething groups of citizens demand that the roads to be repaved or planted over because they are "eyesores," while a tight-fisted opposition yells, "Why bother? No one uses them anyway?"
|High voltage lines in Keene, NH from e5capeveloc1ty's Flickr page.|
Another type of space that already seems under utilized are the endless, sandy and scrub brush ridden tracts that support our electrical infrastructure. Massive power lines, not unlike the proposed Northern Pass transmission line, conduct millions of high-voltage watts from power plants, across hundreds of miles of cable to power stations across the country. Outside of their intended purpose, the tracts serve as little more than fodder for four wheelers and snow mobiles, but is there a reason these swaths of wonderfully straight land can't be coupled with bike trails or high speed trains? Back in 2004, an artist, Richard Box, dug 1,300 florescent light bulbs into the ground below a set of high voltage lines as part of an installation. The bulbs lit up, sapping the wasted electromagnetic field (EMF) the lines produce. Being able to harness the excess EMF for something other than art installations and leukemia (supposedly after years of exposure) also seems like another obvious question.
"Light Field" by Richard Box.