The Future City Break: New York in 2029

The Future City Break: New York in 2029

What will the
city break
of the future look like? Using today’s emerging
technologies as a starting point, and contra to the dystopian
doom-mongering that often accompanies our visions of the future, we
imagine how our holidays might unfurl a decade from now in a
fantastical, optimistic missive from the New
York
of 2029.

This article appears in Volume 28: The Cities
Issue



Looking
back to 2019, Google’s then-director of engineering, Ray
Kurzweil, predicted that nanobots would inhabit our bodies by now –
that we would be able to upload our brains onto the cloud as
microscopic robots flowed through our arteries. While many of the
predictions the “Nostradamus of tech” made in his 1999 book The Age
of Spiritual Machines had become a reality by the end of the 2010s,
a decade on in 2029 we’re still waiting for paper books to become
obsolete, such is the human race’s ongoing desire to remain
connected to physicality. And nanobots inhabiting our bodies?
Thankfully still a thing of science fiction novels.

Even if scientists and technologists have taken us to a point
where we can conceive such an extreme level of human integration
with technology, increased resistance against the Silicon Valley
elite continues to keep such uneasy fantasies at bay. In 2029 we
have – after a discordant decade of divisive politics and
technological evolution that frequently spiralled beyond laws,
legislations and morality – arrived at an epoch where humankind and
technology are at last co-existing in some kind of harmony. With
just a few months left of the period that has come to be known as
the “turbulent twenties”, I decided to travel to New York City to
assess how technological advancements that were in their infancy at
the turn of the decade have today transformed the humble city break
beyond all recognition.

One area Kurzweil predicted with alarming accuracy was that of
artificial intelligence. As several robot rights cases rage on,
it’s hard to remember a time before civilisation’s relationship
with our synthetic companions flourished. Yes, we still look down
at their level of “humanlike intelligence”, but as I arrive at
departures to check in the single permitted piece of luggage that
Siri advised me to pack last night, I’m glad I gave up arguing. As
much as you might not like to admit it, they always know best. They
may still struggle with British humour, but they also have in-built
connections to airline data systems, deeply analytical knowledge of
every item of clothing in our wardrobes, a better understanding of
our tastes than we do, and the ability to predict the Earth’s
increasingly erratic weather systems.

It seems a long time since a small Massachusetts airline made
the first commercial electric aeroplane orders from Eviation
Aircraft at the Paris
Air Show in June 2019, even since Airbus, Boeing et al. cranked up
the pace of rolling out their hybrid models in the middle of the
2020s. However, as delays on the transatlantic Hyperloop tunnel
continue, my eco-conscience is thankful for the increasing ubiquity
of electric air travel.

I am not as enamoured with the restrictions it places on
luggage, although the now-commonplace self-cleaning textiles
(containing nanostructures that break down organic matter when
exposed to light) make a limited wardrobe less of a concern than it
would have been in the days before waste plastics had overtaken the
likes of cotton and polyester as our clothing material of
choice.

It’s fitting that I arrive in the Big Apple on a hybrid aircraft
that produces dramatically lower emissions than a similar flight
would have in 2019, for it is the climate crisis that has shaped
the city’s most significant changes in the last 10 years. That
famous skyline might be more vertigo-inducing than ever, but
changes brought on by environmental concerns have reshaped New York
at street level. A decade prior, trash was still a common fixture
in city living, but street openings now suck your waste through an
underground network of pneumatic tubes at more than 50mph to
stations miles away, making that clutter a thing of the past.

Once a rare novelty, living walls envelop us in greenery and
urban farms occupy many of the shops and banks left vacant by both
the end of mainstream shopping and the discontinuance of cash.
Meanwhile the lanes that are taken up by autonomous vehicles are
shadowed by expansive cycle skyways. City life is (save for the
incessant whirring of Uber’s tiresome flying taxis and those damn
delivery drones) a considerably more tranquil experience than it
once was.

I arrive in the centre of affluent Staten Island from JFK within
minutes, each of the five boroughs now linked to the airport’s
Hyperloop hub, from where it’s a short stroll to
Ace Hotel
‘s newest opening. The impact of environmental design
is as conspicuous here as at any hotel I’ve checked into of late.
The interiors are strongly led by retro millennial pink, but it’s
the wealth of cleverly upcycled design pieces throughout that
demand most attention. The couches are produced from spent mash
collected from the hotel’s own nano-brewery, decorative bowls are
made from some of the 100,000 tonnes of used toilet paper flushed
annually in New York City, and waste coffee aids growth at the
hotel’s on-site farm, which produces almost 90 per cent of the
restaurant’s entirely plant-based menu. While the rise of the
circular economy and zero waste were buzzwords at the dawn of the
2020s, today’s commonplace ingenuity in upcycling has changed the
face of urban design.

With more of us concerned with the traceability of products and
ingredients than ever before, Ace Staten Island’s savvy use of
spatial computing allows guests to understand the story behind each
and every detail. On a custom-made, mixed-reality platform, the
designers and makers of each piece talk me through their processes
and inspirations, the Dutch creative behind those used toilet-paper
objets d’art appearing through my iContacts at the wave of a hand.
Kurzweil’s prediction that virtual reality will feel 100 per cent
real by 2029 may have missed the mark, but I can’t help but marvel
at the achievements made in this field in recent years alone.

At dinner I visit the restaurant’s various suppliers simply by
gesturing toward particular ingredients. As someone born in the
20th century, I still have that tendency to swipe my hands through
their faces to check they’re not actually there – you never see the
youngsters doing that. The head brewer behind the hotel’s craft
beer then takes me on a tour of the brewery. Technology has made
what was once impossible a reality, but good old-fashioned
storytelling and high quality, honest ingredients still matter
most.


Vehicle automation having practically ended traffic, coupled
with the rise of Hyperloop and flying taxis, means that New York –
like other major cities – has experienced immeasurable sprawl. You
might no longer need a Manhattan postcode to be at the centre of
things, but many of its disused retail outlets and traditional
office buildings have led to a creative renaissance that shows that
the borough will always be NYC’s beating heart. I head to a
gargantuan emerging art space occupying a vast former Facebook
(remember them?) office, the algorithms that Siri feeds into my
digital identity leading me straight to the works of most
interest.

Again, the sharp use of mixed reality brings the space to life
and many of the artists have cleverly hacked the system to bring
lifelike interventions into the gallery. A hyperreal great white
shark swims through a pool that we’re encouraged to paddle in, a
play on the murky waters of contemporary politics. Following a
similar theme, one artist has filled a room with several notable
political figures from the early 21st century talking to one
another, recalling the days before the left and right split and the
middle ground disintegrated. Afterwards I head to Hablar in the
Lower East Side, one of the countless talking cafés that has sprung
up over the last five years employing 5G-blocking technology to
encourage human-to-human interaction.

With more people living in increasingly homogenised cities than
ever before (we’ve seen a 10 per cent increase in migration toward
cities since 2019) and virtual reality now capable of leading us
through worlds far away, city travel in 2029 is more of a cross-
cultural experience than ever before. We take city breaks to see
how others are integrating new technologies and environmental
design into their daily lives, to unearth emerging offline creative
scenes experimenting with pre-21st-century crafts, and to
physically engage in a largely virtual world. For the first time in
several years, data shows that we are conversing with humans more
than robots. Travel is one of the key factors in saving us from a
digital dystopia.

From home to hotel, our faces are now all we need to transition
through multiple transport systems, board aircraft and open our
hotel door. Big data, the internet of things and billions of
advanced physical and virtual sensors coalesce in assisting our AI
assistants to assist. Crowd-sourced, personalised recommendations
are beamed directly to our retinas and waiting is an inconvenience
consigned to the history books. The blurred realities achieved
through spatial computing lend art and culture an enhanced potency
of which we could once only have dreamed. Most importantly, the
human touch has returned – part of the ongoing backlash against the
social networks that tore communities apart, meet-ups and communal
neighbourhood activities have brought renewed life into our
cities.

As I take a taxi over to Williamsburg, the one per cent’s
playground, I fly past the Chrysler Building, which was the world’s
tallest structure 100 years ago. As countless buildings dwarf it,
the art-deco masterpiece – now a colossal co-working space – is
symbolic of how far we’ve come. The 1920s were defined by their
exuberant popular culture and, a century on, New York is still
thriving. However, this progression is not based on the latest
biotechnologies, robot intelligence or mixed realities: it’s based
on humans. Having rebuilt connections with one another, we are
travelling to share experiences more than ever. Travel is within
us. It is an emotion no machine will ever truly replicate.