Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Great, Competitive Outdoors

One of the great failures of imagination is to assume that the future will be like the present in every respect. While it's tempting for many people - familiarity is, after all, comfortable, and people crave anchors in strange places - it's fundamentally flawed. Change is one of the only constants in life, and if we want to be able to face the future on firm footing we can't loll back and assume everything's going to be like it was before. That is a recipe for being blindsided. What we need to do, as individuals, governments, and societies, is continue to probe the possible futures to ensure that we have the best chances of dealing with what the next years bring.

Recently I received an email inquiry from an interested voter about where I stand on certain positions, one of them being crime. In this case, my position is that we're on a good, smooth course. Toronto has a low crime rate for a city its size, and it's been decreasing steadily for more than ten years. Incidents like the subway robbery in April are plastered across the city media because that sort of thing rarely happens. Still, the future will evolve, and we can't assume that this state of affairs will inevitably continue. Things change; they already have changed.

Case in point - @sciencewisdom on Twitter recently posted this quote by science fiction author Isaac Asimov: "Night was a wonderful time in Brooklyn in the 1930s. Air conditioning was unknown except in movie houses, and so was television. There was nothing to keep one in the house. Furthermore, few people owned automobiles, so there was nothing to carry one away. That left the streets and the stoops. The very fullness served as an inhibition to crime."

What we're beginning to see today are the foundations of a world where leaving one's home is unnecessary in order to complete progressively more tasks, and if remote operation technology becomes more refined and accessible to the public in the years to come, that trend can easily accelerate. It could make the ideal of the "safe city" harder to realize than in the present day. Plenty of people, I imagine, would have no problem at all if they never had to leave their house again.

I believe that one of the things cities should be working on for the future is a program of outdoors development to coax people out of their houses and back into the commons. Toronto's Sherbourne Park, currently under construction and in a voting runoff to determine a final name, will hopefully be a fine example of this, as Chicago's Millennium Park may be - though I'm not sure how well-used it is by Chicagoans as opposed to tourists. As the old saying goes, a man's home is his castle - but one of the reasons castles were built in the first place was to protect from enemies outside. That's not really the sort of thing I'd like to happen again.

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