Nautilus

How Imagination Will Save Our Cities

In Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2017 science-fiction novel New York 2140, the city of the future has become a vertical super-Venice, after being flooded by rising seas caused by global warming melting the Arctic ice caps.1 While the lower stories of many of Manhattan’s skyscrapers have been overtaken by the sea, residents continue to live in those above, accessing them via boathouses and pontoons. A tangle of sky-bridges connect the lofty heights of many of these skyscrapers, the streets beneath now canals traversed by countless boats and gondolas. Ruins litter the intertidal zone, inhabited by the desperate and the poor; while airships agglomerate above the buildings into sky villages. Robinson’s imagined New York of the future hasn’t succumbed to the ravaging effects of climate change; rather, it has adapted to the changes by radically reshaping its built environment.

Despite the fact that climate change is already affecting vulnerable cities like New York—principally featuring an increased incidence and severity of urban flooding—it remains a phenomenon that is dominated by future predictions. Even by the cautious estimates of the most recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2014, cities are in for a rough ride in the next century. By 2100 the rise in global temperatures is almost certain to exceed 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, and, alarmingly, already reached that level for a short time in early 2016. Sea levels will rise by anything up to a meter, or more if current predictions prove to be over-optimistic (and  is based on an estimated rise of 15 meters, or 49 1/4 feet, over the next 100 years). Cities are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change, particularly coastal or tidal-river-based conurbations—including 22 of the world’s major cities according to the Stern Review of 2006.

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from Nautilus

Nautilus8 min readPsychology
The Unique Neurology of the Sports Fan’s Brain: Why we get off on the game—and are better off for it.
Sports fans aren’t typically in the mood for academic research in the minutes before a big game. But Paul Bernhardt, an aspiring young behavioral scientist at Georgia State University, was determined. Armed with a bag of sterile vials, Bernhardt inch
Nautilus13 min read
Six Degrees of Separation at Burning Man: What our experiment in the desert taught us about social networks and human cooperation.
Today the alkaline desert is quiet. The roar of techno music and flamethrowers has been replaced with the soft clink of rakes and trash cans. Thousands of people put aside their hangovers to methodically clean the desert. After a dedicated communal c
Nautilus5 min read
Our Aversion to A/B Testing on Humans Is Dangerous
Facebook once teamed up with scientists at Cornell to conduct a now-infamous experiment on emotional contagion. Researchers randomly assigned 700,000 users to see on their News Feeds, for one week, a slight uptick in either positive or negative langu