Car Trouble?

Car Trouble?

Gabriel Wartofsky

The Car in 2035: Mobility Planning for the Near Future
By Kati Rubinyi
Civic Projects Foundation, $35

THE CAR IN 2035 is a good title and I was anxious to learn about a future in which the car’s role as a shaping force in American life is diminished. But this book, edited by Kati Rubinyi and published by the Civic Projects Foundation, Los Angeles, is not going to take the reader down the road to a post-carbon world. Rather it is a practical and multifaceted view of the future of mobility, grounded in the precepts of Southern California.

During the mid-Twentieth Century this vast geographic area was developed alongside the freeway system and a culture of car ownership that gave us “Little Deuce Coupe” and the “Little Old Lady from Pasadena.” In fact, the Pasadena Freeway connecting Pasadena with downtown Los Angeles was the first freeway in California and the western United States. The Art Center College of Design, based in Pasadena, plays a prominent role in this book; seven of the 27 contributors have an affiliation with Art Center, and 20 of the 27 live in Southern California, which gives this book a regional slant.

Chrysler GEM Peapod Neighborhood Electric Vehicle (left).
Autoblog Green; Courtesy Civic Projects Foundation

Many of the essays are from an administrative point of view, which may be useful to architects and planners. Marco Anderson, a senior regional planner points out that the 2035 date was chosen because it “corresponds to the target year for the vision for future transportation infrastructure that informs the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) 2012-2035 Regional Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy.”

Writing in the foreword, Michael Webb notes, “the future some of (the contributors) depict is an idealized present, a future constructed out of images of the present.” But in a counterpoint, the Car Future Group’s report, “Possible Futures: Southern California in 2035,” states: “This book does not deal directly with many radically alternative scenarios, including severe global depression, permanent drought in the Southwest, The Big One (massive earthquake), Peak Oil, and rapidly rising sea levels due to climate change. However these possibilities shouldn’t be ignored.”

Future windshield display.
Jiha Hwang

So while the book seems relentlessly stuck in a form of short-term thinking, there are notable exceptions. Featured on the wrap-around cover design, the Origami Model T was designed by Sang-eun Lee in a project sponsored by Ford at Art Center College of Design. Intended as a car to sell for under $7,000 by utilizing an innovative manufacturing process, Lee’s method was to apply origami methods to simplify shaping the body of a light, urban vehicle. Another notable exception, “Is an Environmentally Neutral Car Possible?,” is by John Thackara, the author of In the Bubble: Designing in a Complex World (MIT Press) and a blog at He writes about a start-up car company in the UK, Riversimple, whose purpose is “to build and operate cars for independent use while systematically pursuing elimination of the environmental damage caused by personal transport.” The company currently has a “technology demonstrator vehicle” powered by electric motors and hydrogen fuel cells and with a body made from composite materials.

Of course, for many readers the essential question is what will those new cars look like in 2035? Geoffrey Wardle, Art Center’s Executive Director of Graduate Transportation Design, in “The 2035 Look,” takes the reader through a succinct and well illustrated history of car styling in the 20th century and beyond to 2035: “Writing in 2012, one thing is quite clear: the rate of change of the automobile industry is going to be faster and more significant between now and 2035 than perhaps the entire history of the car. Of course quite major, even catastrophic events, which are hard to predict, could completely change the direction of development.”