dr lisa kane

Lisa Kane Dreams of freeway utopias: who benefits? 
Spring 1937: the Shell Oil Company employs stage designer Norman Bel Geddes, to create the ‘City of Tomorrow’, a scale model of a utopian future, for shows in New York and Detroit. The head of the Bureau of Street Traffic Research predicts that American cities will be rebuilt in this way over the next 25-50 years. 

During 1939-40, General Motors (GM) commission the same Bel Geddes to expand his Shell model. They called the new model ‘Futurama’.

In the first summer of that World Fair, more than 5 million visitors travel on conveyor belts to look down on the GM’s ‘Futurama’ diorama, as if from an airplane window. 

In Futurama, free movement of autos is evoked across vast panoramas. The film of the exhibit, ‘To New Horizons’ (1940), projects an America where there is freedom from want, and where mobility – social and physical – meant movement in cars on free-flowing expressways.

Fast forward 80 years and Futurama is our reality. Cars do, indeed, “fly” across landscapes but the equivalence punted by GM and others has not come to pass. No auto-fueled nirvana so far.

In the 1940s, South African engineers toured US highway engineering departments and in 1951 the Cape Town City Engineer’s department published ‘Metropolis of Tomorrow’. With its similar evocations in photographs and words, it seems that South African engineers were seduced also.

Lisa Kane Detail from Proposal C
Detail from Proposal C