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Transportation Future, via A.C. Clarke in 1946

In Arthur C. Clarke’s 1946 short story Rescue Party (the first he ever sold), he offers an intriguing view of how rapid transportation of the future has changed the world and its cities:

For the culture of cities, which had outlasted so many civilizations had been doomed at last when the helicopter brought universal transportation. Within a few generations the great masses of mankind, knowing that they could reach any part of the globe in a matter of hours, had gone back to the fields and forests for which they had always longed. The new civilization had machines and resources of which earlier ages had never dreamed, but it was essentially rural and no longer bound to the steel and concrete warrens that had dominated the centuries before. Such cities as still remained were specialized centers of research, administration or entertainment; the others had been allowed to decay, where it was too much trouble to destroy them. The dozen or so greatest of all cities, and the ancient university towns, had scarcely changed and would have lasted for many generations to come. But the cities that had been founded on steam and iron and surface transportation had passed with the industries that had nourished them.

Yes, the Rust Belt has seen better days. But for the only surviving cities to be one-trick ponies (such as DC for administration and Las Vegas for entertainment) is unlikely. Diverse cities are the ones that are the engines of innovation and the ones that people wish to live in. Furthermore, the importance of proximity for people is one that will probably not simply be invented away. We are social creatures and while we all prefer differently sized cities, I have a feeling that cities are here to stay.

As a bonus, here’s another fun quote from the story:

The great room, which had been one of the marvels of the world, meant nothing to them. No living eye would ever again see that wonderful battery of almost human Hollerith analyzers and the five thousand million punched cards holding all that could be recorded on each man, woman and child on the planet.