Rafael S. W. imagines a future where cities are bailed out by global corporations.
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Robocop looks out at the city and frowns. He frowns because that’s how he was built. But he’s also frowning because he’s one of the few remaining original citizens who can remember what it was like in the past. He was frowning back then too, but at least that was for reasons he could pin down. He watches a car drive itself down the street. It’s hard for him to see, but it doesn’t look like there’s anyone in there. Part of him wonders if this is the beginning of the end. But who is he to worry about an invasion like that.
The year is 2043. Twitter’s publishing arm ‘TwitLit’ controls most of the publishing industry. Road incidents are at an all-time low, and would be lower if it wasn’t for the few Luddites that insist on driving their own cars. Whales are soon to go the way of the anchovy. And Google just posted record profits, stemming largely from their success in Getroit.
Getroit (pop. 800,000) is a mid-sized city located in the state of Michigan where it is the major production and tourism hub of the region. While most of the population work in the downtown area, many also work from home. Founded in 2014 through a joint effort between the then bankrupt City Council and the executive chairman of Google at the time, Eric Schmidt, Getroit was to become one of the first truly modern cities in the world.
This is especially commendable when compared with what Getroit was like before the changeover. Each year on Upgrade Day there are presentations of Getroit Beta or ‘Detroit’.
Although most of America had various fiscal problems back then, Detroit was already suffering as early as the year 2000. With property revenues falling, residents refusing to pay rates and sometimes just simply leaving, the city was already in poor position to deal with the difficulties that arose in the future. Declaring bankruptcy was suggested as early as 2005 by John Boyle, a consultant hired by the City Council. This was due to multiple factors, from US$280 million in uncollected fines and fees to the simple but steady collapse of the once-vibrant auto industry. Things weren’t promising for Detroit. Boyle would later find a US$7.2 billion promise from the city to fund retiree health care, and the mayor, Kwame M. Kilpatrick, would resign in 2008 after being convicted of racketeering and other federal charges.
Things didn’t look good on the streets either, with more than 40 per cent of streetlights not working, emergency service response times approaching an hour, and even one case of police robbing citizens at gunpoint. According to the website Realtor.com, eighteen homes in Detroit were listed for US$100 or less, with six properties listed for $100 and nine listed for one dollar.
However there were still options for Detroit – a Robocop statue, bankruptcy, a government bailout. And maybe even not building that US$400 million sports arena. Instead it was decided that Google should step in.
The move for Google to buy Detroit attracted criticism from many, and even prompted several citizens to leave. Part of the criticism came from union workers and civil servants, who had already sacrificed a lot to keep the city from going under, and thought that a takeover would undermine that. Concerned that a Google-run city would alienate longstanding citizens, a petition was even started up online. Although this failed to gain traction, Google issued a statement detailing that only uninhabited areas were going to be built up; the rest would remain as they were. For a while the city was divided, but once improvements were rolled out, and the search giant took over, there was a noticeable shift in the public view.
“There were some days when I didn’t even have electricity!” said one resident, reflecting on the time before the changeover. “Let alone fibre internet. All my grandkids want to come visit now.”
Of course, corporation-owned cities weren’t anything new, even for the 00s. Disneyland has been a private city since 1967, with “the authority to open schools, create its own criminal justice system, and open a nuclear power plant”. It’s not unusual for businesses, especially mining ones, to have ‘company towns’, and there were even plans in Honduras to let private investors build a city entirely from scratch.
Getroit provided Google with a city-sized Petri dish. A place to test technologies in real time, real life settings and work from the ground up – reimagining the day-to-day functions of a microcosm of the world. This has proven to be a resounding success, made especially sweet by past social networking failures. A city of industry and innovation, the way has been paved for commercial interests and the American government to work side by side for the good of the people.
— Original idea credit from Brandon Tomlin
Rafael S. W. is a recent graduate of creative writing and one of the founding members of Dead Poets’ Fight Club. He writes every single day and has been published in Voiceworks, Going Down Swinging No. 33 and Dot Dot Dash. He also competes in poetry slams and giant-sized chess games.