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Apocalypso

Very Visible Cities

Giant Chinese pigeons, Scarlett Johansson’s daughter, and deliberately un-green urban living: What to expect from London, Los Angeles, and Moscow in 2040, 2070, and 2100.

 

Moscow

They renamed the airport. Maybe because there is no longer a village called Sheremeteyevsky nearby—in fact there are no villages nearby; Moscow, like a tree, has always grown in rings and is now seven rings wide, about 1,500 square miles of village-less-ness—or maybe because foreigners were increasingly assuming that they were arriving in a city that pays tribute to Alexander Sheremetev.

It doesn’t. Few Russians look back on the closing ceremony of the 2014 Olympics, when renegade LGBT activists let loose a crane fly-by over the Presidential viewing stand, as a triumphant moment in Russian history—Sheremetev included. There was a lot of crane crap. Much of it missed its target.

Moscow has become a more tolerant city. This is what happens when people live with each other long enough. Muscovites have been living with migrant workers, employees of foreign NGOs, and homosexuals longer than they even realize. Now, the Jews are back, Moscow being a safer bet than Haifa on any scale. They all ride the bullet train to and from the airport and they’ve stopped noticing each other. And now that Muscovites are finally noticing they don’t really notice anymore, indifference has replaced fear. It’s almost friendly.

The airport? It’s called Putinskoy. He died three years ago. Massive heart attack.

Los Angeles

Having fled mandated condom laws and numerous HIV outbreaks, the pornography industry relocates to Las Vegas. Union density spikes with domestic workers gaining the right to organize. Venice Beach’s new generation of weed stores directly target women with frozen yogurt self-serve.

A rash of suicides in Twin Towers, the mega-jail complex, combined with an outbreak of Mycoplasma pneumoniae among correctional officers, spurs prison reforms, creating smaller lockdown facilities on the desert exurbs (Lancaster, Sylmar, Valencia) on the perimeter of the city.

Venice Beach’s new generation of weed stores directly target women with frozen yogurt self-serve.

USC costs $100,000 per year. Wilshire Boulevard is a car-free bike lane. Los Angeles goes over 50 percent Latino.

Mandated bilingual education sparks a huge parents’ revolt in the Los Angeles Unified School District. But the mayor, Ivy Fernandez—the daughter of Scarlett Johansson and Jesus Fernandez—quashes it. Spanish-language films go mainstream and a 3D version of Jesus Christo SuperEstrella, produced by the filmmakers behind Kony 2012, pulverizes box office records.

There is no such thing as free parking. Jaden Smith is in jail. Sex Buffet is the hottest club in Hollywood.

London

Count back 27 years from 2013 and you’re in 1986, the last dying days of analog London, hacked about without much care, resplendent in perpetual grey, brown, and tan, scoured by the occasional bomb but not yet locked down in widespread fear. By 2013, London had been transformed into an international sanctuary, a refuge for culture-starved, stateless cash that needed old, authentic bricks to bed down behind.

It’s now 2040 and the venal city of the Noughties has fragmented even further, scattering its tribes into pockets of self-contained isolation. Analog culture, good karma, and financial regulations are a distant memory. Only the fashionable cliques that throng the hip enclaves of Welling, Mitcham, and Northolt still cling to physical media. For the rest, the only physical things are concrete, bricks, glass, and steel.

The London of the New Forties has been shaped by two decades of intensive construction, buoyed by the opening of Crossrail, the horizontal train line that telescoped the city into fresh west- and eastward expansion. Crossrail 2 has only been open for five years and it’s already done the same for the north-south axis, helping the population accelerate to some 10 million people.

Nathan Carter, A monstrous flash of pink lightning rip-zipped across the sky…, 2013. Photo by Jean Vong. Courtesy the artist and Casey Kaplan, New York.

The streets feel closer, the buildings higher. Yet traffic is at its lowest level for half a century. It’s nearly a decade since the City of London established itself as the UK’s first autonomous car zone. Hailed as a traffic-calming measure—and, protesting taxi drivers suspect, a means of boosting the shares of the tech-heavy stock market—the zone had a stumbling beginning. At first, people were pretty reluctant to step into a car and simply trust it to take you home. Anxious business people quickly adopted one of the many personal security apps to automatically track their route and broadcast an electronic SOS to their social network if the cab should appear to stray. Now that the network has bedded down there’s a lot less false positives, although the companies with the (allegedly) cleverest cabs still get the most business. Hacking the rankings is a popular, if highly illegal, activity.

The skies are still thronged with aircraft, many of which are creaking Dreamliners and A380s, eking out their last years of service as over-stuffed tourist buses. Heathrow’s Third Runway opened without too much fanfare in the early Thirties, although for several years the elaborate shantytown erected by the fifty-thousand-strong protestors remained a very visible sight from the upper levels of Terminal 6. Unsurprisingly, the new runway spurred on new traffic, particularly from the burgeoning economies of Central Africa. Building work on the vast Boris Island complex in the Thames Estuary is now underway.

There are almost no backwaters left to walk in the “old” city. The late Iain Sinclair railed against the proposed privatization of the capital’s heritage, but as tourism has increased, the need to keep much of London free for visitor access has created a multi-tier city, with the center of town divided between enclosed high-end residential enclaves and tourist-friendly zones. For Londoners, except those who work and serve in the zones, much of the traditional city is now effectively off-limits, psychologically, if not physically.

 

London

Pigeons were finally declared extinct in the late 2050s after a popular Saturday night communal screen-in, DroneIdol, led to the invention of a quasi-autonomous, app-controlled flying aerial exterminator. The combination of entertainment, pest control, and light violence proved enticing. Within 18 months, the city’s pigeon population was completely eradicated.

London is still a wild city, with rats and foxes evolving into alpha predators, emboldened by many years of garbage strikes and the side effects of waste dumping of illegally enhanced GM meat. Foxes are now one of the leading cause of deaths for the under-fives in the lowest two socio-economic groups. The catastrophic Rat-themed series of DroneIdol is currently the subject of a second public inquiry and a joint class-action suit from the RSPCA and Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Air pollution, noise, and the ever-present (but unrealized) threat of terrorism finally spurred city legislators to create a no-fly zone over the Inner City (London City Airport having been converted first to farmland, then to housing in the latter half of the century).

The City has resorted to using specially commissioned cybernetic horses to haul tourists around the designated heritage zones, huffing and puffing convincingly as they trot through the streets.

The City of London’s ban on conventional cars continues to cause social division and protest, as well as complex security issues.

For the first decade or so, it was easy to order up an automated cab for door-to-door, totally autonomous transport. Racks of shiny black RoTaxis were stacked vertically alongside most major city office towers, each one dispensed automatically as its pre-booked fare approached. However, security failures led to a spate of high-profile auto-kidnappings and even a foiled attempt at a coordinated bomb strike by a fleet of remotely hijacked RoTaxis, their explosive sniffers deactivated.

In response, the City has resorted to using specially commissioned cybernetic horses, originally created by Cambridge Bionics, the British offshoot of Boston Dynamics, in order to haul tourists around the designated heritage zones, huffing and puffing convincingly as they trot through the streets.

Greater London now houses 15 million people.

Moscow

The oligarchs are dead, long live the oligarchs!

Once Russia annexed Belgravia, the elite expat life of the London Russians was over. So they staked their claims in Moscow, just like 18th century courtiers. They left their sons and daughters to rebuild the torn-down stateliness of old city; to repopulate the cavernous coffeehouses along Tverskaya Street with cultural foundations; to rent out the bombastic skyscrapers along the embankment to the Chinese middle-class. Street-level Moscow has regained some elegance—the elegance of a penniless nobility rich in influence.

The lords of the new ruling class are the programmers whose empire is under-ground. Not metaphorically. Digital Moscow, launched to preeminence when the orbital debris disaster of 2013 caused a global communication “reset,” is more powerful than any financial capital in the world. It resides a half mile underground, where its signals only compete with the metro.

That leaves the streets to the sentimental tourists who line up for a guided circuit of the city nestled in black SUVs with tinted windows. At the end of the ride, they park on the sidewalk just like in the old days.

The linseed trees were the last to go. Folks are used to an un-green city, but there is a general regret, come late spring, for the end of the pukh—the fluffy pollen of the linseed trees that gathered in drifts in the gutters and amused so many generations of young firebugs.

Los Angeles

The Etruscan-style real estate revival creates a new power nexus of moneyed Angelinos living in eastern Los Angeles known as the Elysium Corridor (formerly Griffith Park, Los Feliz, Chavez Ravine, and Atwater Village).

With Google leaving LA in 2052 for San Diego, Venice and Santa Monica return to their low-rent status of the 1960s—they are primarily known for their Mr. White Butt beach competitions, sprawling weed cookie factories, and a violent local gang called the Bat Daddies.

Hologram headstones are in. Topless overalls are out. The hottest new drug is an inhalant named Kronstadt.

Los Angeles finally gets its own football team. But celebration is short-lived because the following year the NFL shuts down for good under the weight of traumatic brain injury lawsuits. Attendance at Galaxy soccer games exceeds that of the Dodgers and Angels, combined.

The First Freescraper—skyscraper-height commuter freeway—from Sun Valley to Mission Viejio begins construction.

The Academy Awards are determined by global online voting, and in 2040 the best picture winner is a Chinese submission called Moving Image Generation 29, produced by Moving Image Generator International.

Hologram headstones are in. Topless overalls are out. The hottest new drug is an inhalant named Kronstadt.

 

Los Angeles

After the earthquake/Santa Monica cliffs collapse of ’84, Los Angeles is dubbed the Rio de Janeiro of the Northern Hemisphere—a dense, horizontal, and severely stratified metropolis with extravagant wealth and five major favelas: Little Lancaster, Salvador West, Blue Sky, Yum Foods Inc., and Aztecapultepec. Starbucks and McDonalds open stores in three of them.

Downtown Los Angeles hosts a major economic revival after Zappos and the Westside Independent Cannabis Collective Association (W.I.C.C.A.) merge to create a strip of online gambling parlors that offer private-booth circus performances and blood doping. Construction is completed on Vatican Two, a three-mile compound built along Westfield’s Malibu Bluffs. The world’s first black Pope spends his summers there and is often seen on shopping sprees at Topanga Plaza Prada Town.

City workers take off May 6th to honor victims of the Great Freescraper collapse.

To kick off the new century, Los Angeles gives birth to a new world religion, called Open Source, based on a hybrid of Catholicism and transcendental meditation. It’s started by a Bikram yoga instructor of an indeterminate gender named Scone. The transubstantiation doctrine of the new religion is consecrated through açai enemas.

The last three orangutans on Earth escape from the Canoga Park Zoo and are never found.

Moscow

It’s nice to see the stars on top of the Kremlin towers again. When was it they were replaced with the Rosneft logo? Sometime after the Petrowealth Collapse but before the Peak Oil Putsch.

It must have been around the same time the Moscow River was diverted. Once the Kremlin went from the seat of state power to the reservoir of the world’s last oil reserves, they had to do something about the river. Even inland, people don’t shrug at rising sea levels anymore. Just look at St. Petersburg—oh yeah, you can’t, it’s underwater.

Even inland, people don’t shrug at rising sea levels anymore. Just look at St. Petersburg—oh yeah, you can’t, it’s underwater.

So the Rosneft flares replaced the stars around the time that the Kremlin got its moat and they moved Sechin into the mausoleum alongside Putin. It’s the first time the mausoleum has held two guys since they took Stalin out.

But now that the stars are back up, who knows? Maybe it’s a sign that the legacy oil is gone? They sent all those satellite mines into space last century and started throwing the around the phrase kosmo-energo dobychi (cosmic energy alternatives).

Or maybe it’s just a retro thing. Like a moat around the Kremlin, which, primitive as it seemed, turned out to be a fairly good security measure. Especially when they ignite the surface.

London

A city of 20 million people, London’s Heritage Zone is contained within a series of special bird-resistant bubbles. The arrival of Giant Chinese killer pigeons, muscling in on the territory left vacant by the demise of Columba livia, has wreaked architectural havoc. The new breed has Tungsten-strength beaks that can easily penetrate the Gorilla Glass flexi biodomes above Piccadilly Circus, Buckingham Palace, and the South Bank.

London’s popularity means it is a valued prize in the global tourist lottery system, which allocates pre-booked visitor passes to the world’s major destinations on a randomized, country-by-country basis. The global abandonment of air travel by everyone except tourist lottery winners and political prisoners means that Boris Island is now a self-policing exo-country, with its own laws, currency, and passport. Modeled along similar lines to exo-countries in the U.S., China, and Japan, New BoJo is serviced by a vague, stateless immigrant workforce for the benefit of tourists (many of whom, records show, do not even take the train to the mainland).

Crossrail was extended out to the island in the latter years of the 21st century, an elevated rail line encased in a concrete tube so as to avoid the low-level radiation seeping from the disused Bradwell Power Station. New BoJo is off-limits to native Britons, a forbidden zone that is looked on with envy by many of London’s poorest occupants. A three-bedroom London apartment reached an average price of a million pounds in about 2025, nearly 15 years into Britain’s experiments in near-zero inflation levels. As a result, shared tenements, short rental periods, and communal living define the existence of everyone but the very upper levels of society.

From mid-century, for example, the simple act of walking through the foyer doors at Harrods triggered the automatic and irrevocable charge of £25 from one’s smart wallet.

By this point, all of London’s major cultural institutions have made the controversial decision to move their main art collections away from their original sites and into purpose-made warehouses located much, much closer to the arrival points of the visiting classes. The arrival of Tate Heathrow in 2025 prefigured the eventual wholesale evacuation of the entirety of the Inner City art collections to more controlled viewing conditions on the fringes. New BoJo even has a Guggenheim, formed from a cluster of 20 abandoned Chinese oil tankers, spot-welded at staggered angles to form a giant lotus flower that’s visible from space.

Other major developments ensure the Heritage Zone is kept pristine. Little Russia, formerly known East Croydon, arose from the agreement in 2085 to purchase existing plans for a complex of 25 super-tall residential towers on the fringes of St Petersburg, the developers of which effectively blackmailed the World Monuments Fund into forcing through the deal. The listed Westfield Shopping Centre in Hammersmith is managed by the National Trust and has become a sought-after location for film makers, while many upscale tourist boats arrive at the converted container port of Tilbury, where Chinese pre-fab specialists Broad Sustainable Building signed up to build a high-rise city to accommodate people waiting for their tour passes to be validated, a process that can take up to two months.

Technology has done a fine job of keeping the streets clear. From mid-century, for example, the simple act of walking through the foyer doors at Harrods triggered the automatic and irrevocable charge of £25 from one’s smart wallet, with a sliding scale of additional charges applying as you ascended up through the store. This pioneering pay-to-access scheme was swiftly embraced by many of London’s smartest streets, with exceptions being made for store-card holders and frequent customers. As many residents will acknowledge sadly, to simply walk around London costs money. Window shopping is a distant folk memory, just as playing in the streets was to our great-grandparents.

The airport component of Boris Island was a magnificent failure, opening just in time to see air travel utterly marginalized by the Musk Tube, which looks set to transform the 22nd century just as the railway shaped the Victorian age. The runways are carved up and turned into apartments, while the problem of tens of thousands of redundant airframes is solved in a stroke. Heathrow, long blighted by its position at the centre of the country’s largest slum, becomes the European hub of a complex global network of rendition, where suspected terrorists, radicals, and subversives are typically put on “destination-less” planes that circle the world, flying from hub to hub and stopping only to take mandatory DVT prevention exercise in the gravel strewn landscapes of Greenland before setting off once again.

From when they are very young, today’s Londoners know that their responsible adult might point to the skies in warning, showing them that if they misbehave they could be confined to a dark metal tube that never stops moving through the air. As they grow up, they might see the sun gleam off the distant HeriDomes and dream that their annual visitor ticket is just about to come through. Perhaps even two or three members of their family can visit on the same day. But usually, they’ll look around, before sighing and turning back to concentrate on the job in hand, typically a short-term micro-contract that has been digitally seeded to a million or two pocket screens.

London’s energy is still there, deep down, under the crust. You might think that the Londoner of 2100 has little claim to the city, emotional, physical, or spiritual. But the tug is there, under the skin.

Jonathan Bell hasn’t always lived in London and doesn’t always live in London. But he usually lives in London and loves London, even if London doesn’t always love him back. Elizabeth Kiem is the author of Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy. She’s been personally acquainted with Moscow for over 20 years. Natasha Vargas-Cooper is an independent journalist based in the San Fernando Valley, two miles away from the nearest Westfield. More by Jonathan Bell, Elizabeth Kiem & Natasha Vargas-Cooper