It’s not every day that Harrison Ford features in discussions about urban planning, but for the second time, Han Solo née Indiana Jones née Rick Deckard is at the center of futuristic visions for urban design. Ford plays the main character in Ridley Scott’s 1982 cult classic Blade Runner. The film is based on Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and both the film and novel take a dark, apocalyptic spin on the ideals of urban futurism. Set in a dystopian Los Angeles in 2019, Blade Runner is both a sci-fi inspired action film and a look forward at the potential future of cities.
On the surface, Blade Runner‘s appeal to the science fiction community is not hard to see. Understanding its relevance to the urban planning community, however, takes a more nuanced approach. We’re not the first ones to note Blade Runner’s bold urbanist vision. Urban critics as well as the mainstream media have commented on the role of urban space and the city’s “neon-laced decay” in shaping the mood of the film. Los Angeles, in all its futuristic grit, plays the sidekick to Harrison Ford’s steely protagonist.
The 1982 film Blade Runner sparked an interesting dialogue on urban planning and the future of our cities, which is still relevant today.
The density of Los Angeles, and other oxymorons
The Los Angeles of Blade Runner is notable for its stark contrast with the Los Angeles of today. Set 30 years in the future at the time of release, the city is all but unrecognizable save for iconic landmarks like the Bradbury Building. Blade Runner’s Los Angeles has a dense urban core with towering skyscrapers piled next to one another. It features street-level open air markets and restaurants. Freeways are conspicuously absent and the streets are for pedestrians only.
Granted, cars fly through the sky instead of on the ground and it’s hard to call a city laden with toxic waste and murderous robots walkable, but it’s still a far cry from the sprawling, car-centric Los Angeles we know today.
The city as a machine
Blade Runner offers a profound, and in many ways alarming, vision of the city of the future. Scott, who directed the film in the context of discussions about post-industrial society, used industrialist imagery to convey the city as an enormous machine. The replicants central to the film’s plot, the metal and glass exteriors of the city, and the constant presence of smoke and pollution reaffirm the exaggerated industrial qualities of the film’s Los Angeles.
Furthermore, the only animals in the film are fake, signaling a heightened dichotomy between the built and natural environments.
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