From imagination to reality

If you were to watch the 1989 movie ‘Back to the Future Part II’ now, in 2015, the era in which the film is set, you may find that some of the technology it features looks rather familiar. This is thanks to the imagination of the screenwriter, Bob Gale, who co-wrote the film with Robert Zemeckis.

Hendo, a California-based company, has developed a prototype hoverboard, Google Glass has already made interactive eyewear – though the public is less than convinced – and, by the end of the year, you will be able to buy trainers with self-tying laces. Yes, really.

As a landscape architect, I am interested in how these technological changes we now enjoy have shaped our twenty-first century landscape. Mobile phones, for example, are a source of entertainment as well as a communication tool – but now we often walk around staring at a screen, not seeing the world around us. So the concept of the landscape as a designed space for social congregation, once at the forefront of plaza and small urban space design, is diminishing.

Gale did not foresee the internet, a glaring omission, perhaps. Its creation has enabled globalisation – whether this is good or bad depends on your viewpoint. Certainly, we can collaborate with anyone, anywhere, irrespective of physical boundaries. However, on the flip side, we are in danger of creating a world where, as the late Ian Nairn, a former architecture critic at the Observer noted: ‘the end of Southampton will look like the beginning of Carlisle; the parts in between will look like the end of Carlisle or the beginning of Southampton.’

Internet Inspiration

With an overwhelming 40 years left in landscape architecture (fingers crossed), the advancements that could be made during my career are incomprehensible. But it’s fun to speculate. So let’s speed into a future where one of Bob Gale’s predictions came true – the flying car. What would you find? A world without roads, streets dominated by the needs of pedestrians, a countryside no longer dissected by motorways and nature in harmony. The air would be cleaner, I would hope, pollution lessened.

Innovation is progress and this one vehicular revolution could dramatically change the future. But, as the song says, ‘the future’s not ours to see’ – except, perhaps, at the movies. So we shall have to patiently wait to discover what it holds for us.