Thursday, August 21, 2008

Future Baltimore!

It's pretty hard to imagine a more Gothic city than Baltimore (in the literary sense). You've got the Faulkner-esque kind of gothic with over-grown gardens, crumbling shacks, shambling, sclerotic citizens. And also the northern gothic--shuttered factories, menacing turrets on decrepit mansions, etc. It is no particular wonder why Baltimore is often the preferred mise-en-scene for mystery novels.

But it's harder to envision a futuristic Baltimore. The usual urban boosters (e.g., Live Baltimore, The Urbanite) do their best, but I don't know of any sf novel set in the city--even cyberpunk dystopias of the near future seem to have passed us by. Still, I would like to try to evoke stochastic, interesting futures for my city.

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, Margaret Mead often theorized about the ingredients of the creative city—the institutions that she thought might stimulate what she called “emergent clusters”. But the point to her analysis—and to what I think today—is that neither what elements might be important nor the resulting “clusters” can be known in advance. What we can do is to multiply opportunities for creative crossings of all kinds—not just forms that we’ve determined in advance (festivals, galleries, literary salons)—but the ones that will emerge just beyond the borders of our predictions. The point is to open connections between peoples and parts of life in our city that have been historically separated—by race, religion, language, location, orthodoxy and heterodoxy. In Baltimore, this would first involve identifying the configurations with the most potent potentialities for emergence, and then assist in the creation of the space for those connections to grow, a catalog of potentials, rather like Doni’s 15th century catalog of books that had not yet been written. When we imagine the best that Baltimore can be, aren’t we excluding what we can’t yet imagine? This is the difference, I think, between urban areas that emerge as poster children for the creative class and ones that continuously run to catch up.