Skip to content
Header illustration
In collaboration with Retro Report

Future of Cities

By 2050, nearly 10 billion people will share our planet. As mega-cities rise and technology reshapes the urban landscape, how will these changes affect the vast majority of the world’s poor?

Sponsored by
Retro Report
Future of Cities

Where We Thought We’d Be

We can’t predict the future, but we can learn from the past. Here are some experts who thought they got it right—but were often hilariously wrong.

  • 1894 (for 1944)

    On the nose

    A journalist for the Times of London proclaimed that in 50 years, “every street in London will be buried under nine feet of manure.” In the Great Horse Manure Crisis of 1894, some 50,000 horses were producing as much as 35 pounds of manure a day apiece. At the time, these stinking heaps of dung seemed an ever-present inevitability in cities.

  • 1925 (for 1950)

    Scraping the sky

    A Popular Science mock-up of the city of the future suggested a town built vertically, rather than horizontally. Sky-high living quarters and playgrounds, trimmed with urban foliage, were piled on top of schools and office blocks. Underground, four levels of transportation were linked to curving spiral escalators in an attempt to “solve congestion problems.”

  • 1931 (for 2031)
    A blimp.

    Bright lights, blimp city

    Francis Keally, the architect of the Brooklyn Public Library, was convinced that modern life would be dominated by blimp travel. To make it easier for these vehicles to “spread out over great areas like monstrous eagles,” he thought that most skyscrapers would be razed to the ground, and two-thirds of the city’s flat-topped, low-rise buildings would be used as landing areas.

  • 1932

    Sweeping suburbia

    Architect Frank Lloyd Wright felt the future of cities lay in boundless suburbs, with a population density of just 2.5 people to each acre. Wright believed people need space to be individuals, and that to honor the “dignity and worth of the individual,” you have to give them a bit of breathing room. Broadacre City, as the project became known, was an anti-city of sorts, where people coexisted as far apart as physically possible.

  • 1964 (for 2014)
    An aerial photo of the Palm Islands in Dubai, UAE.

    Fire, water, and ice

    After visiting the 1964 New York World’s Fair, popular science author and biochemist Isaac Asimov laid out his vision for the future in the New York Times. As global populations swelled, he foresaw a world in which cities sprung up in desert environments, polar areas, and even on continental sea shelves: “Underwater housing will have its attractions to those who like watersports,” he wrote.