*FRSEMR 62Y. Back to the Future: How the Past Imagined the Cities of Tomorrow

Humans spend a lot of time thinking about the future. In this seminar we will discuss how urban futures were imagined in the past. And how things often turn out in very unexpected ways. European colonizers projected fantasies about the future onto the Americas, and in the past two centuries we have witnessed a boom in utopian and dystopian works about cities. We can think of much of modernity in terms of competing visions of what the future ought to be like. Besides flying vehicles, in the 1920s, for example, some vied for car-centric, highly segregated cities, others for mixed-race, multicultural communities. In modernity, we tend to assume that the future will be radically different from the past. But not all cultures have thought that way, and we will also consider alternative conceptions of time. As a set of expectations, the future helps to shape the present—even if it never quite arrives. Today, with climate change and labor precarity setting in, it often seems as if a dreadful future is inevitable. Is our contemporary condition marked by innovation or exhaustion? From a catastrophist point of view, it is as if the future, not the past, is already fixed. In this seminar, we will investigate the urban visions of authors, designers and filmmakers, asking: how did unrealized projects impact the built environment? How can fiction and the arts stretch the limits of the thinkable? How might futures imagined in the past help us to address current urban and environmental challenges?









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Freshman Seminars

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  • [Course titles in brackets] indicate that the course is not scheduled to be taught during the 2019-2020 academic year, but may be offered in an alternate year.
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