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In July 1922, anthropologist Ferdinand Shuler took his shot at imagining the New York of 2022 in American Weekly magazine. He predicted a high-tech, highly sustainable city infrastructure designed for the health and happiness of its citizens. Turns out some aspects of his urban forecast were spot on — but others have yet to manifest in Manhattan 100 years later.
In his article, Professor Shuler makes several eerily accurate architectural projections. “One hundred years from now the buildings of this scientific city will be from sixty to eighty stories high, composed of glass, steel and concrete, and having a base the size of an ordinary street block,” he asserts, predicting the glass, steel and concrete skyscrapers now towering over Hell’s Kitchen and Hudson Yards.
A further prediction that said skyscrapers would be encased in wire screening is not entirely accurate, but Shuler’s argument that “people working and living behind these walls will move in scientifically diffused light, contributing greatly to their well-being” has come to pass in the form of computer screens and soul-sucking open plan offices — though we’d debate whether they contribute to our well-being.
Shuler also seems to have foreseen the rise of the amenity-laden West Side luxury development buildings (recently profiled by W42ST) — asserting the New Yorker of tomorrow (sorted into a retrofit gender role) can wake up “in his own hotel apartment, eat his breakfast, go to his office or manufacturing plant, visit a department store, attend a picture show in the afternoon and a dance or theatre in the evening, send his children to business college and wife to church without any one of them moving out of the same building.”
Also pretty much on point? Self-service at restaurants (hello iPad ordering!), as well as indoor air conditioning and heat regulation (though we’d argue that some New York apartment radiators haven’t been replaced since 1922).
In other predictions that partly hit the mark, Shuler says clothes shopping will become more customized (subscription fashion services, though struggling, have proven this to be true) but largely misses the mark with a focus on personalized in-person shopping — alas, Shuler didn’t manage to forecast the World Wide Web and its tidal wave of Amazon Prime Week online ordering.
Shuler envisions a “paradise of beautiful parks, dotted with splendid statues and woven with shaded promenades leading here and there to music pavilions in which the latest melodies may be heard at any suitable hour” — New York City (if not Hell’s Kitchen) is still chock-full of green spaces, and while outdoor music pavilions aren’t a constant, year-round presence, the city’s seasonal, free concerts are a reasonable substitute.
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But some of his ideas fly wide of the mark, including Shuler’s assertion that food will be designed to be curative and “few drugs or medicine taken”. While we wouldn’t cite either as New York City failures, the modern-day US healthcare system leaves quite a bit to be desired in both categories.
Regarding work-life balance, Professor Shuler imagines that technological advances will allow New Yorkers to work “but a few hours a day” and three to four months a year, leaving them the time to pursue further academic study and personal hobbies. We wish! Alas, our evil overlords the smart phone, email and a century-defining rent surge seem to prevent most of us from clocking out…ever!
His neat pedestrian-friendly transportation ideas — desperately needed in traffic-heavy Hell’s Kitchen — have unfortunately fallen flat. Bus-like airplanes ferrying urbanites around town in structures that have “elevators, rolling floors, swimming pools, and practically every convenience that man can picture as necessary”? Sadly, this is not what riding the M11 feels like, although rolling floors and sidewalks make notable appearances in our airports.
In addition to predicting automated traffic systems that prevent car collisions (still a threat locally and elsewhere), Shuler forecasts “Enormous bridges connecting these gigantic buildings at different levels will help hold them up and turn the whole city as it were into one great structure” which, while semi-present in the High Line, has not yet expanded to give New Yorkers an entirely car-free walking experience.
Shuler also says that in 2022 subways will be extinct (bad news: the very same NYC subways operate on signals from the 1930s), and that “no man will be without his own aeroplane or electric automobile” — though personal airplanes are not exactly the beacon of sustainability. Shuler also asserts that large, electromagnetic trains capable of traveling 200-miles-per-hour will power transport between buildings.
In both his on-target and faraway predictions, Shuler’s thorough rendering of a futuristic New York prove that it’s human nature to try to predict the future — and while sometimes it goes better than others, that rarely stops us from trying. What’s your vision of 2122?