A Century of Grim Urban Futures

Americans like to imagine their cities as places doomed to disaster. For the webmag History News Network I recently traced “The Grim, Awful Vision of the City of the Future.” Drawing on my book Imagining Urban Futures, the article finds that the imagination of urban disaster over the 20th century has moved through rough stages of “fire,” “famine,” and “flood.” In early decades the fear was social upheaval and chaotic revolution (fire). In the decades after World War II, the fear was overpopulation and overcrowding and food scarcity (as depicted in this food riot from the movie Soylent Green). More recently, the fear has been cities as generators and victims of environmental disaster (flood).