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Welcome to Croyden, a City of the Future : What Life Could Be Like in a Metropolis That Works

November 17, 1985|JOHN J. BERGER

It was early one Indian-summer morning when I set off to do my research on the startling developments at Croyden. Soon I was behind the wheel of the V-8 Belligerent, chugging north on the San Diego Freeway through swirls of rush-hour traffic.

Ahead of me the Santa Monica Mountains were swathed in gauze-like shrouds of smog; behind me billowed a turbulent cloud of brown exhaust from my car. Coming up fast was the L.A. Interchronological Airport, where I was to meet the man known as Reuben. Some considered him a visionary, others a malcontent. Indisputably, he was a primary instigator of the changes at Croyden and thus was to be my guide for a tour of that city.

As an ecologist, I believe that people who want to lessen ecological damage need to think about redesigning cities, where most natural resources are consumed. But frankly, I doubted that Croyden could be, as claimed, ecologically sound, economically viable and attractive.

Keeping those reservations to myself, however, I met Reuben, and together we boarded a small private jet bound for Croyden. The flight began normally enough. But after an hour or so, I began to feel a queer sense of time distortion, and the sky outside the cabin seemed to fade. The next thing I knew, the engines were quiet and we were cruising at 1,000 feet over a huge urban landscape reminiscent of a well-tended Mayan city.

The clarity of the air was stunning, and so great was the profusion of greenery that it was hard to believe I was gazing at a metropolitan area. Every spare inch of land seemed to be sprouting with vegetation. The streets were all lined with beautiful, healthy-looking trees of infinite variety, some in bloom or in fruit, others laden with cones. Low-spreading plants grew on rooftop gardens and made green borders on roof edges. Intensely cultivated fields and woods no bigger than a single-family home lot could be seen throughout the city. Large stacks and vents were built into what otherwise appeared to be normal residential buildings, apparently for some industrial facilities. Glass enclosed the south-facing walls of tall buildings, and there seemed to be greenery inside. "These are all passive-solar apartment houses," Reuben said.

Traffic flowed smoothly along the streets beneath us in an ever-changing mosaic of multicolored electric buses, vans and trolleys. Bicycles, some with three-wheeled trailers or sidecars, carried people to and fro in great numbers along bicycle paths. Trolleys, evidently equipped with retractable tires, moved freely from rails to merge with street traffic. Lovely creeks meandered through the downtown area, traversed by footbridges and overpasses. The thickets along their banks gave them a native appearance.

To the east of the city was a small, double-fenced forest, interrupted by meadows etched with a footpath network. A pair of deer grazed in a glade, and a flock of cranes fed in a nearby small field. "Our municipal park," Reuben said. "Only 20 years of restoration and we've got a facsimile of native forest. We put everything back, even microorganisms."

As we stepped off the aircraft, I saw that what appeared to be green asphalt was a tough, spongy ground cover with tiny, broad leaves a quarter of an inch in height. I bent down and tried to pluck a leaf, but it was of a rubbery, rough texture.

"Runway plant," Reuben said. "Like street plant, it's genetically engineered. We prepare the ground, hydrospray the stuff on in a seed-and-fertilizer emulsion, and it quickly forms a dense, impermeable ground cover. Excludes weeds and never needs tending. In autumn, we mow it and process the clippings to extract complex hydrocarbons with which we fuel planes and make plastics."

"You're kidding?"

"Perhaps I am."

From the airport we took a trolley tour of downtown landmarks, including the city's Restoration Congress Hall, from which a working congress had launched the city's restoration two decades earlier. Reuben explained: "Synergistic planning was our approach. We use the word to mean systems working together to their mutual enhancement. In Croyden we comprehensively redesigned our resource supply systems: food, water, energy, raw materials, transportation, communication, waste processing. Efficiency and self-reliance were our bywords, so as to minimize the strain on the natural resources that support us. Thanks to the co-design of these systems, virtually nothing is wasted."

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