As I touched upon in a previous post, it’s a bit odd we don’t have mile-high futuristic towers in our cities built by the richest companies in the world to show off their power, and just because humanity can. Well, I’m a science fiction writer who worldbuilds a better and more advanced timeline, so our universe lacking something cries out to me to include it in the one in my own imagination. So it shall be with the tall buildings.
A Science-Fictional Concrete Jungle
My timeline is one where by the early 21st century the most urban cities have airports with Mach 5 supersonic passenger jets flying over long distances, subsonic flying-wing passenger jets flying over short distances, and tiltrotor shuttles to fly over the shortest distances, connecting downtown roofs with airport terminals. Personal aircraft flit between buildings. Underway-like freeway tunnels and vast cathedral-like parking garages burrow beneath the urban fabric, freeing the street for the flâneur. Big high-tech companies build out mile-high spires a la Frank Lloyd Wright’s The Illinois, or just as often towers designed to be as high as possible, most of the space not even habitable, built so high just because they could build it that way, observation decks and a host of facilities for the unending streaming horde of financially-independent tourists who roam the Earth (and even the outer space beyond).
Downtowns have converted to being predominately central business districts, with nighttime population density very low for the extremely high structural density; the residents who were formerly so prevalent in the cities and suburbs have since decamped to the countryside, roadways and automobiles permitting speeds of well over 200 mph making it trivially easy for commuters to find their own acreage even without resorting to the more premium and much faster conveyance of personal aircraft.
Cities are in the process of achieving their final form, as gathering places and monuments to man’s achievement, largely decoupled from the places people make their abodes. Super-tall spires aren’t just a phenomenon for the biggest cities of the world; to a lesser extent even smaller cities of my world have what we’d consider to be very impressive skylines. Denver is this world’s Silicon Valley, but by the early 21st century, a hundred years after the computer took off in this timeline, who knows what the new hotness is? Nevertheless, Denver is host to a whole new mountain range of glittering spires. To a lesser extent even nearby Cheyenne has gotten in on the action, as have places like Anchorage and even Nome and Coos Bay, the latter two being small towns in our universe.
A Short Story in an alternate, more advanced urban America
Into this jungle of concrete and glass sits a short story I’m thinking about writing, a young man taking his travel companion, a sweet, pretty, and charming young woman with red hair and grey eyes, along for a trip through one of these cities, the gentleman wanting to experience its most spectacular urbanity. Sounds kinda like something I’d do, but whatever.
One of the tall buildings they visit is a tall tower a la the CN Tower but cooler, really tall (two or three miles up) over a city not associated with super-tall structures in our world; I think several levels in the tower’s habitable area (a pod or one of the pods) will be dedicated to a combined library/coffee shop setup, with a spiraling pattern giving one access to all the floors’ books and facilities while only having to climb a gentle slope, maybe with a really cool transparent elevator complex in the middle. Plenty of Foucault pendulums inside these buildings too, along with other big science-y displays. Remember, these buildings are tourist attractions. There could be big airy gothic solarpunk-ish spaces in these things.
Another aspect I want to include is them going to take a drive on one of the freeways, from underground-urban to rural, highlighting the infrastructure and its history. The car they drive will be a full-size coupe, and I mean full-size; what we’d think of as a luxury land yacht of a car, with trunk and seating being about the maximum size a man can stretch to fit into. I was thinking it might be powered by hydrogen combustion, but nuclear-powered prototype cars are active, so they might pick one of them. We’ll see.
In any case the car they do pick out will be, like most cars on the road, a convertible, and painted in vivid colors. Maybe cool paint jobs are de rigeur in this world and it’s common for a car to have truly unique markings, an automobile take on heraldry. That’s an interesting thought!
A different, better Great Awakening of the 1960s?
Another interesting thought is something I touched on in yet another post (well, two posts, actually): the possibility of the 1960s great awakening being far more impactful than it actually was, a real chance for a revolutionary moment. Maybe I’m looking at the age of the counterculture through rose-colored glasses, but I’m starting to think that something like the New Age great awakening reshaping society, religion, and politics much more profoundly than it has to date is a really cool idea, one that would fit in very well in my alternate history.
The good thing about having a point of divergence as far back as 1900 is that it becomes plausible for something closely analogous to the 1960s counterculture as we knew it to arise, but also be substantially different, perhaps taking a form more conducive to achieving victory, or perhaps arising in a society more receptive to its tenets, or, as in my timeline’s case, both.
It makes some sense: the leisure class of financially-independent people who live off investments expands so rapidly it actually becomes a majority in the United States by the early 1960s, creating a truly massive wave of affluence, as opposed to the insipid taste of it we got after WWII (the consequences of which nevertheless scared the ruling class to death…); also the libertarian movement is far stronger, more advanced, and better-organized than in real life, being in the perfect position to take over the counterculture and vice-versa; on top of that the technological wave of crypto-anarchy is starting to bloom at the same time (1960s computer technology is comparable to our 2010s). All this will combine to turbocharge a socially revolutionary movement.
One distinction is that drugs aren’t emphasized as the path to god or some such; rather the movement hews closer to the original Lebensreform ethos of clean natural living (at least the mainstream of it…). I expect a wave of experimentation with drugs, but more driven by the uncertainty and sense of new possibility in general than being a centerpiece of the counterculture. There is no baby boom in this timeline, so the culture doesn’t become frozen in amber with one generation’s voice dominating all for the better part of a century. There is also no culture of fear and risk aversion, so more room for novelty and experimentation.
New infrastructure enables ruralization at a far greater scale as well. Communal living might just gain traction as a truly mass phenomenon in this timeline, and I suspect it might be much more common than in real life; maybe there are a lot of communal groups, with the spaces designed to facilitate their lifestyle, in these urban towers seeking to further the trend toward futuristic arcologies or some such. That would be interesting! But I think that would remain rather niche; what I expect would really take off to become the norm is getting back in touch with nature and everyone so inclined taking up an artsy bohemian ethos and lifestyle, which better matches the individualist renaissance anyway.
The “sexual revolution”, on the other hand, might happen more gradually, as was already the trend from roughly 1870 to 1930. Without the 20th century’s disruptions (this timeline has no world wars) it’s likely trends in sexual mores would be perceived as evolution rather than revolution. As developed countries in East Asia prove the culture doesn’t have to evolve toward the sexual norms we see now. Sexuality will change, as it usually does, but it will have distinct differences from real-life developments; in particular I’m thinking some aspects of social mores might be much more traditional, but against a backdrop of alternative lifestyles becoming much more prevalent and above all a genuinely liberatory and individualist ethos taking over.
This might include embracing passions instead of fearing them, as we see somewhat today in the contrast in “romantic regimes” between Russia and other parts of the West. In that respect it’s very convenient that the East Slavic population is much larger than it is in real life (no casualties from the Civil War, Stalin’s purges, the World Wars…), especially in North America.
Plenty of contrasts there for some worldbuilding intrigue. As for the leading man, he won’t have to worry himself about sexuality much; his travel companion is affectionate but in a platonic sense. I like writing about the erotic power of love, but one thing that’s been missing from my stories is the power of friendship, which in 2022 I might want to emphasize more. In any case, they’ll be having a great time exploring and taking in the sights and sensations of alternate America’s urban fabric. Above all I want it to be an atmospheric vignette of the urban world of my imagination. I’ve already been having a good time brainstorming for it, and I suspect it might be really fun to write, and, hopefully, to read as well!