Singapore and Tokyo captivated me with hopeful modern architecture. It seemed like European buildings scream “everything good has already been”, while Asian architecture looks toward the future and tries its best to make it compelling.
This turn towards gloom seems to be present in all aspects of western culture. We are going overboard with all the Black Mirror Mad Max Social Networks, and these “warnings” seem to be hastening the precise future we do NOT want. So much so that in 2020, Cyberpunk’s creator had to publish a reminder that “Cyberpunk was a warning, not an inspiration”.
It seems that humans don’t do very well with warnings (DUH if you’re following what’s happening with the climate). A better frame seems to be “Tales to inspire, not the tales to condemn” or “focus your time + energy on what you want to see more of“.
So how does this compelling future look?
This week I stumbled upon the term Solarpunk, and I love it. It’s simultaneously tying techno-optimism, respect for nature, self-reliance, frontier aesthetics, and positive-sum games.
The pillars of Solarpunk
- Focusing on designing a compelling future, not warning against possible problems.
- The strong position of the art, capturing the imagination, and making the positive outcomes irresistible
- Designing cities from first principles to be lush, bright, hopeful, and above all – nice places to live.
- Technology coexisting with nature. Humanity finally curing its medieval god complex and giving up taming the dangerous forces of nature but working with them instead.
3 articles and 1 video about Solarpunk you should check out
Solarpunk is a bottom-up, unorganized movement held together by common beliefs. This manifesto is not a canonical set, but most of the points are addressing perfectly my disappointment with the mainstream vision of the future. Here are my favorite ones:
Solarpunk is a movement in speculative fiction, art, fashion, and activism that seeks to answer and embody the question “what does a sustainable civilization look like, and how can we get there?”
It is a counterculture that is actually constructive:
Solarpunk can be utopian, just optimistic, or concerned with the struggles en route to a better world , but never dystopian.
Humanity loved to tame nature. But it’s clear that we won. What now?
We’re no longer overlords. We’re caretakers. We’re gardeners.
I love the Aesthetics of Bioshock Infinite. No other game has had me just standing and staring at the visuals.
1800s age-of-sail/frontier living (but with more bicycles)
Noah Smith has recently published a Substack Essay focusing on the urban design aspect of the Solarpunk movement. He analyses the art of Imperial Boy and lists why this urban design seems to work – check out the post for a deep dive.
He concludes with the same sentiment mentioned in the Solarpunk manifesto – we need to first envision the future in order to start building it. It seems like (popular) art has turned from serving as an inspiration to priding itself in warnings.
But only by drawing a bunch of these futures can we convince the people of our cities that density and transit and mixed-use development won’t turn their cities into Manhattan clones or dystopian superblocks or whatever else their fevered imaginations run to whenever they hear someone say the word “density”.
To create the future we must first dream the future. Private foundations that are interested in pro-density politics should give a bunch of money to people like Christopher Hawthorne, who should then scour the country for a hundred different Imperial Boy type artists to draw pictures of the futures of American cities.
This article on Singularity Hub echoes the same message:
The job of the artist is to make the revolution irresistible.
But it also lists examples of Solarpunk sprouting in the world already, as “Gardens by the bay” in Singapore, or Golden Bridge in Vietnam.
The solarpunk credo is to grow the new world in the soil exposed by the widening cracks of the old world.
This Chobani comercial captures Solarpunk perfectly:
A thing I wrote
I published an article unrelated to Solarpunk, where I try to predict how Decentralized Autonomous Organizations managed on the blockchain will be used in governance.
I mentioned we have seen enough dystopias, but I have heard the warnings, and I make a case for an auto-expiry system of any autonomous rules.