Episode 15: Transcript

Our Opinions Are Correct Episode 15

Transcribed by: Keffy Kehrli

Annalee: [00:00:00] Welcome to Our Opinions Are Correct, a podcast about science fiction. I’m Annalee Newitz. I’m a science journalist who writes science fiction.

Charlie Jane: [00:00:07] And I’m Charlie Jane Anders. I’m a science fiction writer who thinks a lot about science.

 Annalee: [00:00:12] In this episode, we’re gonna talk about something that’s usually relegated to the background in science fiction and fantasy. And that’s the city. We have characters who go to cities to learn magic, to get technology that helps them turn into super ninjas or like cyber killers or whatever. And cities are even sometimes characters. And yet, we rarely think about how science fiction treats the city and what that tells us about where cities may be going in the human future.

So, we’re gonna talk about that, and we also have a special guest, Burrito Justice, who is a blogger and mapmaker, who created a map of what would happen to San Francisco after 200 feet of sea level rise.

[00:00:56] Intro music plays: Drums with a bass drop and more science fictional bells and percussion.

Charlie Jane: [00:01:23] When I think about my favorite places in science fiction and fantasy stories, you know, most of them are definitely cities. And I feel like a lot of my favorite stories are kind of about the life of cities.

[00:01:32] But, also… it feels like we think of cities as being the future in some sense, and why do you think that is?

Annalee: [00:01:38] It’s funny because cities have been part of human history for a while. We have evidence of the first human cities going back about 9,000 years, depending on how you define cities, but, you know, roughly around then. Throughout most of that period, cities have been kind of an aberration. Most people haven’t lived there, there haven’t been very many cities. And, in the last ten years on the planet earth, we’ve gone through a transition in our human civilization, where we are now a majority-urban species. So, the majority of humans live in cities. And the UN did a study where demographers projected that this number is only going to rise. During the rest of the century, we’re gonna see up to 70% of people living in cities, particularly in developed areas. And so, I think that the city now has become something that is part of our future in a really fundamental way, and we’re kind of… I feel like we’re almost going through some kind of crisis as a species where we’re trying to figure out what the hell cities mean to us. Because now we’re this species that’s urban, and a lot of my favorite narratives about cities kind of are about a crisis of some kind around the city where we’re having to learn how to rebuild cities. You know, Kim Stanley Robinson’s new novel about New York, and a number of other novels are about sort of refashioning the city. N.K. Jemisin’s series, The Broken Earth, which just like won every Hugo award for each of the novels, it’s so great. That’s actually—people don’t think of the fact that that’s actually a novel about cities and how people build cities to be resilient against disaster. A big part of the book is about going to different kinds of cities and exploring how they respond to the natural disasters that wrack this planet.

[00:03:43] So, we use cities to think about crisis and to think about how we survive as a species. But there are also these super magical places, too. There’s urban fantasy as a genre has really taken off, particularly in this urban age, and some of my very favorite stories are about what Fritz Leiber called Megapolisomancy, which is city magic. There’s a number of books that deal with that idea, and I think, to bring it all back, I think that’s because the city is—it feels futuristic to us partly because in a sense, it’s not really. I mean, it’s our present, and it’s something that’s going to be shaping us more and more going into the future, and we just don’t really fully know what that means.

[00:04:33] One of the really great thinkers about the future of cities is a sociologist at Columbia named Saskia Sassen. And she’s written a number of books about what she calls the global city. And, this is a new kind of city that really hasn’t existed before, and a couple of years ago, she was visiting Germany and gave a talk at a university there where she talked about what it is that she thinks is fascinating about cities.

Saskia Sassen: [00:05:00] Frontier zones. Cities are frontier zones. Cities are made through people arriving, people leaving. Global cities are extreme frontier zones. What I mean frontier zone is a space where two actors from different worlds encounter each other. The actor could be a firm, an individual, a project, civil society organization. So, they encounter each other. But there are no established rules governing that encounter. That is a frontier zone.

Charlie Jane: [00:05:35] Yeah, and I love her sort of idea that what makes something a city is that it’s kind of all these different things coming together and that it’s on the frontier. What I love about cities in fiction, especially in speculative fiction, is that kind of coincidences can happen there. You can run into people. People from different communities can run into each other. There can be meetings. There can be like, different groups intersecting. But, you know, I’m sort of fascinated by this idea that as the human population grows in size, we’re becoming more urban, and I feel like that means that cities are going to grow. Cities are going to get bigger and the ways that they can get bigger are either density or sprawl, or some combination of the two. And I’m curious, like, how does science fiction deal with this density versus sprawl, or density and/or sprawl question?

Annalee: [00:06:21] It’s a huge part of science fiction where we have a whole bunch of examples, like, for example, William Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy, which is about basically, the west coast of the United States becoming just like… one giant exurbian nightmare called The Sprawl, which… and then there’s also Mega City 1 from the AD 2000 comics featuring Judge Dredd, among other characters, which is about the eastern seaboard of the United States becoming one giant megacity with these huge towers in it.

Judge Dredd Clip: [00:06:57] Mega City 1 is a city that runs down the entire eastern seaboard of the United States and it has about a 400 million population. The rest of America is pretty much a nuclear wasteland. In the city are these immense buildings, these megablocks. Each megablock is literally what we would think of today as a self-contained city, and that’s where the action of our film takes place.

[00:07:24] Okay, Rookie. What do you know about Peach Trees?

Sir. Peach Trees houses 75,000 registered citizens. It has the highest crime rate in Sector 13. Unemployment rate at 96%. And more than half the residential levels here are classed as slums.

Annalee: [00:07:34] You know, at the same time, we have other science fiction / fantasies like Ecotopia, which is an early ‘70s novel by Ernest Callenbach, which is about reimagining the city to be just completely eco-friendly and the whole city is biodegradable and it’s carbon-negative, and it’s this—the opposite of a sprawl, right? It’s kind of low-density farmland plus city. I think that the fear of huge populations coming together and wrecking the earth is kind of what underlies all of those stories. There’s this kind of… this idea that either you’re going to have kind of a garden city, where everything is green, or you’re going to have Mega City 1 where everything is terrible.

[00:08:16] And the thing that’s interesting about Saskia Sassen’s work is that she’s intrigued by how global cities, and I think it’s interesting when she talks about the frontier being people the meeting, not just other people, but meeting firms, by which she means companies and meeting non-governmental organizations…

Cities are places where corporations kind of become entities that interact with us, and that the global city, which is the city of today and tomorrow, is really a place where it’s not just about the physical footprint. It’s about finance. It’s about a technological footprint. It’s about all of the information flowing through that space that you can’t see. So, every city is kind of wreathed in this information flow.

There’s a great novel that just came out from Tade Thompson, called Rosewater, which I highly recommend that you check out. Which is basically playing with this idea. He’s talking about—he’s sort of talking about Lagos in Nigeria, which is represented in the novel as this sort of horrible sprawl. Aliens, of course, have come, and— because Lagos is so important—and have planted a kind of domed utopian city outside of Lagos which releases spores into the environment, which create kind of like… a mycelial network. It allows people to—some people—to develop psychic powers. It allows people to engage with other people through this network in an invisible way. And, so, it’s a little bit about technology coming to a city and changing the city invisibly. The other thing that these spores can do, is sometimes they randomly heal people. So, you suddenly don’t have cancer anymore. So, it’s also kind of about biomedical technology, as well. It’s like, what happens to a city when suddenly there’s this technological overlay.

[00:10:10] I think that that’s a really fun way to kind of explore the city, is to think about it not just as like, a sprawl of buildings versus something that’s in harmony with nature, but also, like… all of the invisible social relationships that kind of accumulate around the city.

Charlie Jane: [00:10:27] Yeah, and I think it’s interesting to think about these metaphors in the context of gentrification. How does the promise of like, the kind of beautiful smart self-aware cyberpunk city jive with what—

Annalee: [00:10:41] Cybercity.

Charlie Jane: [00:10:41] –with what the internet and information technology have actually done with our city, which is make it kind of in some ways less vibrant, and less vital.

Annalee: [00:10:52] Not to keep harping on Sassen’s work, but she does deal a lot with gentrification. One of the things she says is that gentrification is the process by which kind of invisible footprint of high-tech finance and high-tech capitalism turns into a real footprint. So, it comes into a city and it’s kind of built on high tech trading or high-tech products and then the wealth that comes in because of that changes the city itself. So, the city goes from being one type of physical structure to something much bigger, something much taller. The division between the rich and poor grows immensely, and that’s something we’re—we’re recording this here in San Francisco, where we see this every day. Where we see just extremes of wealth and poverty on the same street.

If you walk up Market Street, you can see—which is our central street in San Francisco—you can see the Twitter headquarters with homeless people sleeping in front of it. You know, there’s nothing more literal than that. That is the high-tech city, and that’s really the truth of the smart city. Like, I feel like a lot of science fiction deals with this idea of the smart city, and a lot of high-tech companies kind of buy into this vision of a city that’s perfectly run because everything is AI, everything is machine learning. Sensors are covering every surface, so at any given moment you know where traffic is, or you know where your best friend is. Can always find the best deal on tacos because it’ll pop up on your phone and it’ll tell you how to get there, and you can go in your self-driving car.

[00:12:23] The reality of bringing tech into a city is that it has a very uneven effect and we—you know, we don’t see a lot of stuff in science fiction about cities having neighborhoods. Like, we see a lot of stuff where rich and poor are living in the same space, but we don’t hear a lot about how different kind of immigrant neighborhoods, or hipster neighborhoods deal with the changes that are brought about by gentrification. It’s funny, like, I always think of Coruscant, the planet of city from Star Wars. Which is at the center of a lot of the Star Wars mythos. That’s where a lot of stuff takes place and a lot of battles happen. The way that Coruscant is built is that it has like a zillion levels. Like, the whole planet is a city, but it’s like a multi-layered city, so like, level 1 is like the most underground and it’s like the most horrible, and it’s like the ghetto-y-est ghetto ghetto, and like, then, each level up is like nicer and nicer, and presumably wealthier and wealthier.

[00:13:25] And so, I feel like that’s what we see in so much sci-fi, when you have a high tech city. It’s either there’s a tall building with poor people on the bottom and rich people on the top. Or, it’s a space station. Like Downbelow Station, classic novel, where it’s like—the kind of riffraff are like in the bottom levels of the station and then the rich people are on upper levels. That’s kind of the image that we have is that this is a high tech city with rich and poor and then all other forms of difference are gone. So there’s no, like, Iranian neighborhood, or there’s no like, geek neighborhood like Akihabara in Tokyo or whatever. Maybe everything is Akihabara, I don’t know.

Charlie Jane: [00:13:59] There’s no queer neighborhood, there’s no, you know?

Annalee: [00:14:02] Yeah.

Charlie Jane: [00:14:02] I feel like, actually Urban Fantasy is where you see more of that. You see more of like—

Annalee: [00:14:07] So true.

Charlie Jane: [00:14:07] –this is the elf neighborhood, this is the, like, goblin district or whatever. I feel like—

Annalee: [00:14:13] The goblin district. No, but that’s so real.

Charlie Jane: [00:14:14] The goblin… you know.

Annalee: [00:14:14] Like, I was just thinking about, one of my very favorite representations of cities is in Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon, which is set in a kind of fantasy Baghdad-type city. And it’s got different neighborhoods, and there’s environmental racism, because they use magic to like, pump stinky stuff from the tannery neighborhood into the poor neighborhood. That’s like, magic. They use magic to do that, whereas in the real world they would just dump it or whatever. They would just dump all of their toxic waste in Bayview, which actually happened here in San Francisco.

Charlie Jane: [00:14:47] To me, the kind of flipside of the whole smart city thing that you kind of mentioned is surveillance. Ubiquitous surveillance. And like, cities in science fiction are often depicted as like, loci of ubiquitous surveillance, and like our favorite show, Person of Interest. New York City is definitely a character in that show and it’s represented through like, millions of security cameras that are just like, watching everybody all of the time. So, I wanted to just ask you, kind of changing gears slightly. Where do we see good representations of utopian cities, of like aspirational cities. Like, cities you would actually want to live in.

Annalee: [00:15:19] It’s such a good question, because I was thinking about it a lot leading up to taping this show, because I was—okay, I need to be able to talk about cities that aren’t just the Minority Report cities, or whatever. And, part of the issue is that when we think of a nice place to live, we often imagine a natural landscape. We imagine a village, or a farm, or something that isn’t urban. However, there are a few exceptions. I think that the city of Wakanda is a fantastic representation of a heavily built up eco city. And, it’s something that—it’s not a blink and you miss it kind of thing in Black Panther, but you know, we don’t spend a huge amount of time touring the city of Wakanda or whatever the major city is in Wakanda. We get several glimpses of a city which has high density. They have smart skyscrapers, they have maglev trains.

Charlie Jane: [00:16:18] I love maglev trains.

Annalee: [00:16:19] So great. And that forms like, an incredibly important part of the story, because there’s this fight scene on the maglev train. We know that they have incredible technology based on vibranium. And they also, at the same time, we have a street view of the city where we see that it’s—that it’s got a bazaar. People are just selling food and textiles out of street vendor stands, and there’s—it’s a walkable city, we see that there’s public transit on the ground. There’s people just carrying baskets around, shopping. It’s a kind of futuristic Jane Jacobs city where you can—it feels very human and livable, while at the same time being very high tech.

[00:16:59] We also see, very importantly, a lot of greenery. We see farms right there next to the city. We see greenery throughout the city, and again, this is a signal, I think, that this is a utopian place to live because they aren’t trying to build it against the natural landscape. They’re trying to build within and around the natural landscape. And, unfortunately, all of this is predicated on the fact that they are a separatist nation underneath like an energy dome that hides them from everyone else, and that prevents anyone else from coming in.

[00:17:34] And that’s often—you see that a lot in kind of false utopia stories, like the movie Elysium, where you have this kind of space station city. But in Black Panther, we’re not meant to see it as a false utopia, and it’s not. It’s a real city. There’s real conflict, and they do have to open to the rest of the world eventually.

[00:17:51] So, as I was saying, though, this is really unusual that we have a utopian vision of a city. And, much more often, especially in science fiction we see a vision of the future which is really, I want to say, just sort of taken straight from film noir. That we have a very noir cast to these cities. Certainly a lot of the progenitors of cyberpunk or the founders of cyberpunk talked about being influenced by noir. I know that Blade Runner was really influenced by noir, and I think Willian Gibson was influenced by hard boiled fiction. And so, you’ve thought a lot about this, Charlie. Like, why are we using the visual language of noir to talk about cities in science fiction? I mean, it seems kind of like that’s a 1930s style. Like, why are we still stuck there?

Charlie Jane: [00:18:41] I used to be obsessed with noir fiction. I read all of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, and Ross Macdonald, and a bunch of them. And Mickey Spillane, I read all of Mickey Spillane novels which are very underrated. I don’t think it would be possible for them to be rated any lower than they are, so, they were pretty much bound to be underrated.

Annalee: [00:18:58] Although, they were super popular. I want to add—

Charlie Jane: [00:18:59] I loved—

Annalee: [00:19:01] I want to add B. Traven. I don’t know if you read B. Traven, but—

Charlie Jane: [00:19:02] No.

Annalee: [00:19:05] B. Traven is one of my favorite [crosstalk].

Charlie Jane: [00:19:05] But I love noir novelists, and I think that part of what it is, is that if you read all these novelists and also watch some of the movies from that time, they’re just full of style. They’re very stark. Everything is sort of black and white, or either that, or neon.

Annalee: [00:19:20] No, it’s literally black and white.

Charlie Jane: [00:19:21] It’s either sort of very chiaroscuro, or it’s like Blade Runner, it’s like neon lights, and it’s kind of sleazy, and it’s Times Square, and it’s like Taxi Driver or whatever. And I think that noir is just—it’s a very appealing aesthetic, and it’s also, it’s a little bit macho, it’s a little bit thrilling, and it’s exciting. And I think it’s just—it’s a fun thing to play with, but I also think that noir is incredibly dated at this point. And I think that part of what we should be trying to do in science fiction, in urban fantasy, in any kind of fiction that deals with, kind of, where cities are going, is to kind of maybe interrogate whether we still need noir. I think that noir has certain base assumptions about how cities are going to be dirty and crime-ridden, and full of corruption and kind of infested with darkness that a) are kind of problematic in the ways that they assume that putting a bunch of different populations together is going to lead to crime and corruption, but also b) seem very out of touch with reality. Out of touch with the reality of like, the fastest growing cities, certainly, and the cities where people are actually increasingly trying to live in, which are not noir at all. They’re kind of the opposite. They’re too clean and too sterile, and too nice, and too kind of like shopping mall-ish. And I think that—

Annalee: [00:20:50] Are you thinking of Singapore?

Charlie Jane: [00:20:51] I’m thinking of San Francisco. I’m thinking of Manhattan—

Annalee: [00:20:54] I was only bringing that up because we just saw Crazy Rich Asians.

Charlie Jane: [00:20:57] Yeah. Which, I loved that movie, but I mean, you know, I was writing a noir urban fantasy set in New York and a spent some time just walking around Manhattan trying to find locations where some of the stuff in my urban fantasy could happen, and I was like, well… this is all way too nice and way too—there weren’t any dark alleys, there weren’t any—I mean, I think if you go up to Queens or the Bronx, or whatever, you can find a few spots, but it’s way too scrubbed. It’s—post-Guiliani New York is just… Time Square used to be this kind of dark adult theater area where there was like sex and drugs and like illicit entertainments and now it’s Disney, and I think that’s symbolic of how New York and cities in general have changed in the last 30, 40 years, but especially like the last 25 years, I think, especially.

[00:21:44] So, I think noir is outdated but I also think it represents a kind of disturbing misunderstanding of what cities are about.

Annalee: [00:21:52] Yeah, I was thinking how so much of cyberpunk is influenced by film noir, but also hard boiled writers, and how you know, even early—well, what we would think of as early sci-fi art films, like, say, The Day the Earth Stood Still, that’s filmed in black and white. I was just thinking about how that was such a weird choice, because this was in the 1950s, when technicolor was like, everything. People were doing these crazy lush deeply-colored films, like really red reds, and then this weird sci-fi film comes along that changed a generation, basically, and it’s very noir. Like, even though it’s about an alien, it’s got the smooth clean lines of noir. It’s shadows and lights. And, what that highlighted for me was how much cyberpunk is, itself, now, kind of retrofuturism. It’s about a future that we thought was gonna happen during the mid-20th century. We started to see the destruction of that future in the ‘80s, when cyberpunk becomes really big. But cyberpunk is still kind of living in the trashed remains of that futuristic idea of these industrial cities. Kind of like Coruscant, where there’s like the poor people and the rich people, and there’s no other forms of diversity. There’s just … those two things. There’s the gritty shadowy dark part and then there’s the rich part. We’re kind of left wondering what kind of a vocabulary do we use now to talk about cities. I feel like we’re still really entrenched in that mode. Cyberpunk is kind of making a comeback.

Charlie Jane: [00:23:29] The interesting cyberpunk to me is the stuff that’s actually dealing with machine consciousness and what robots think about their own lives. I think that noir is useful—

Annalee: [00:23:37] I like that too, Charlie.

Charlie Jane: [00:23:40] Yeah, obviously, like Autonomous, and also Ex Machina, and a bunch of other amazing things recently. The Murderbot books… I think that part of what noir has to offer—it is true that we live in a world where the rich and poor is becoming more extreme and the middle class is being hollowed out, and basically we’re losing the middle class. And I think that that’s accurate. I also think that noir has an interesting focus on kind of the mistakes of the past. Like, some of my favorite noir books are about people who have secrets form the distant past, from 20 years ago, that are catching up to them. And, the detective’s role is to go and uncover all of their dark secrets of the terrible things that they did that they covered up. And I think that that’s an interesting thing to think about as cities get older and we build on top of atrocities and genocides and displacement. Like, we’re all now eagerly moving into areas where poor people have been pushed out by gentrification and displacement. I think it’s an interesting metaphor, but at the same time, I think that we do need a new way of thinking about cities in speculative fiction that kind of moves us away from that like… brooding loner who goes in and walks the crime-ridden dark rat covered streets and then occasionally stops and has some really delicious noodles and then carries on.

Annalee: [00:25:04] I loved what you had to say about how cities are kind of layers of history and part of what noir does really well is show us those historical atrocities kind of coming back. But, the other big thing with noir, as you said, is individualism. It’s about one person encountering the city. That’s where I wonder if there’s some—is there some alternative to that model, to that trope?

Charlie Jane: [00:25:30] Yeah, and I think it really gets back to what you were saying about neighborhoods. I would love to see more speculative fiction, and especially more science fiction kind of following on the lead of urban fantasy and focusing on cities as like, places where communities gather and where characters are part of communities, and I think that in general, in 2018, we need world building that focuses more on how the community enriches us and supports us and defines us versus, just like, the individual versus society, or you know, the person against a backdrop. I think that really what I love about cities and what I want to see growing and being celebrated more about cities is this sense of community and of people coming together.

Annalee: [00:26:14] One of the real strengths of Black Panther is that when we see Wakanda, and we see the cities in Wakanda, it’s about the community there. Many commentators who are much smarter than I am have already pointed this out, and said, you know, this is really a movie about building community and building nations, and so, I think that—again, I’m just gonna keep saying Wakanda is the way forward for cities. In terms of visual representation, but also in terms of thinking about what can the city mean.

[00:26:43] Here to talk to us a little bit more about that, particularly in the context of San Francisco is Burrito Justice, who created one of my very favorite fantasy maps, and he’s gonna talk to us about that.

[00:26:56] Transition music plays briefly (similar to intro music).

Annalee: [00:26:57] We’re here with Burrito Justice who is a San Francisco blogger whose blog is called Burrito Justice, and he is also a map maker, and a city historian. I’ve learned a lot about San Francisco history from reading your site.

Burrito Justice: [00:27:12] Yay.

Annalee: [00:27:12] But you also go by Burrito Justice. So, should we call you Burrito, or Mr. Justice, or…

Burrito Justice: [00:27:17] Uh, Mr. Justice is my father. You can call me Burrito.

Annalee: [00:27:22] Ok. One of the things that you’ve created, Burrito—

Burrito Justice: [00:27:26] Yes.

Annalee: [00:27:26] –That I think really was the thing that made me become a fan of your site and read it all the time, was a map that you made which is called The San Francisco Archipelago and it’s a highly accurate map of San Francisco after 200 feet of sea level rise.

Burrito Justice: [00:27:42] Well, pretty accurate, yes. I mean.

Annalee: [00:27:43] It felt very accurate, so…

Burrito Justice: [00:27:44] Not unaccurate. Certain liberties… certain liberties were taken. And also, I mean, little things like erosion will probably make the map look different when you have a bunch of water lapping against things that were hills, but yeah. It was based on elevation and while 200 feet is sort of probably pushing it for say, like, all the ice on Earth had melted, I think it started with—what’s her name?

Annalee: [00:28:09] Mona Caron?

Charlie Jane: [00:28:08] Mona Caron. We love her work.

Burrito Justice: [00:28:11] Yeah. And the canal… she had a couple murals with canals, and that got me thinking about canals, and then I was like, oh, what if Valencia Street were a canal? And then it’s sort of like, I made this neighborhood map where, you know, tongue in cheek, that like, oh, if neighborhoods were islands. And then, that sort of went into, which obviously elevation lines were [inaudible] like, oh, elevation in San Francisco is kind of important. And then, like, what would happen if various levels of sea level rise would happen, and then rough estimate saying, oh, well, here’s the 50-foot, 100 foot, 200 foot elevation line and sort of filling them with blue below that was pretty straightforward, this is more me amusing myself. And then, I put it out there like hey, islands of San Francisco, archipelago of San Francisco, and then that basically went viral to my surprise. Luckily I’d actually done some—a little bit of research just to say, hey, stretching it, but it’s pretty clear.

[00:29:03] The only thing, and I had a back out for this, Mt. Bruno, down, like, between here. That’s fairly big, and that’s not quite on the map, but I sort of cut it off at the border of San Francisco. But, what I did, as I said that, as sea levels rose, the backstory, Google went and as their campus got flooded in the south bay, they leveled at 100 feet the mountain, and they moved there, and then that got flooded, which is why it’s not there on the map, clearly.

Charlie Jane: [00:29:29] Oh.

Annalee: [00:29:29] And that’s actually true to the history of San Francisco—

Burrito Justice: [00:29:32] Oh yeah.

Annalee: [00:29:32] Where the entire marina district is landfill.

Burrito Justice: [00:29:36] San Francisco hasn’t done—like Seattle went big-time on leveling out hills. San Francisco a little less so.

Annalee: [00:29:42] No, we just build on top of garbage.

Burrito Justice: [00:29:45] Precisely. Throw some rocks and some dead horses in there. Into the swamp.

Annalee: [00:29:47] Some ships.

Burrito Justice: [00:29:47] Some ships. Let’s build over the ships. Seattle definitely went on the, ‘Hey, let’s wash down the hills.’ Because they had a very steep, even steeper now, then kind of rhuuuup up from the water. Which, actually, sort of raises one thing that I’ve thought about. Basically what happened, in, I think it was the 1890s, the main streets in Seattle were built pretty much at sea level, and then that kind of makes it hard to have sewer pipes because when the tide raises all your poo gets pushed up the pipe and floods your toilet.

Annalee: [00:30:14] Yep.

Burrito Justice: [00:30:14] And then they had an earthquake and a fire, and no, sorry, just a fire. And they basically raised the streets up one floor, right. So, they had this thing where they raised the streets up like ten, twelve feet so they could actually run sewer lines down there, and the first floors became basements, and the second floors became the first floors. And so, you can actually walk under the sidewalks because stores were there, and basically that gradually eroded away, but people said, hey, this is dangerous and gross and they started walking on these new sidewalks. But, they basically raised the whole city up ten feet.

Charlie Jane: [00:30:45] Wow.

Burrito Justice: [00:30:45] I think, it’s like, ok, you know, 200 feet obviously enough. But I think you could seriously see ten feet in the next hundred years, especially since, oh, the ice melt is accelerating. Yep, it’s called feedback loop, baby, and so I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better. And so, like, what happens when you have ten feet of sea level rise in San Francisco kind of thing.

Annalee: [00:31:07] Oh, so you think one possible future for San Francisco is that we build up one level.

Burrito Justice: [00:31:11] Maybe. Maybe.

Charlie Jane: [00:31:11] Elevate the whole city.

Burrito Justice: [00:31:12] I mean, it really depends…

Annalee: [00:31:13] Yeah, get rid of these pesky hills, because nobody likes biking up those hills.

Burrito Justice: [00:31:15] No. No.

Annalee: [00:31:16] We don’t need Twin Peaks. Come on.

Burrito Justice: [00:31:19] No, you get the fill… I don’t know.

Annalee: [00:31:21] [crosstalk] So, in your stories that you wrote kind of around this map, you imagined a kind of network of ferries so that people would be living on these islands and taking ferries in between them.

Burrito Justice: [00:31:31] Ferries and some bridges were built, and taco boats. Taco boats were very important.

Annalee: [00:31:35] Not burrito boats, I mean…

Burrito Justice: [00:31:38] Well, they obviously have burritos, but you know… it was like, you know burrito…

Charlie Jane: [00:31:38] Like taco trucks.

Annalee: [00:31:40] Just throw in some tacos, too, yeah.

Charlie Jane: [00:31:41] Taco boats, yeah.

Annalee: [00:31:43] Do you think that maps can tell a story that a written story or a movie can’t tell? Like, is there something you can do with a map that you think hits people in a way that—like, if you’d just written a short story.

Burrito Justice: [00:31:55] I mean, certainly, compared to a movie, because it’s like, oh, it fills your imagination. You put your own story into it, and so that could be a little bit more than maybe a book. Because a book’s telling a story, right? That’s pretty specific, and a movie even more so. Whereas a map is something you can see and study and look at, but you can also sort of fill it with your own story, in a way. Sort of a nice little extrapolation tool. Like, oh, look at this, oh, okay, I’d just sail over there, and if I were going and working on Knob Hill, I’d have to go drive over here and then take a sea bus over to this, and okay, well, how would that affect Muni, and would there be a restaurant on the other side, and could I go grab a beer before I came home from work, or would there be beers on the sea bus, you know, it’s like… That kind of thing. You’re like, oh, okay, what would happen.

Charlie Jane: [00:32:35] So, we’ve been talking a lot on this episode about dystopian cities versus utopian cities and like the fear of density and sprawl and crime and everything versus the hope of a smart ecocity or whatever.

Burrito Justice: [00:32:47] Single-family houseboats.

Charlie Jane: [00:32:49] The happy ecocity that’s like smart and everything. What do you think makes a city utopian or what do you think makes a city futuristic in a way that’s desirable?

Burrito Justice: [00:32:58] I mean, I’m Canadian, so Canada’s kind of the future, I hope. But, no, I mean, peace, order, good government, all that kind of good stuff.

Annalee: [00:33:03] But, what does that look like, physically?

Burrito Justice: [00:33:05] Well, I mean… it’s a lot of investment and actually spending money on things. Like, high capacity fast public transit, and stuff like that, right? But also, courts and law and police officers who don’t shoot people because they’re scared. That kind of thing where basically there’s some sort of respect, it comes down to. Because I think if you have a bunch of people who live next to each other who don’t respect each other that’s kind of dystopian there.

Annalee: [00:33:37] Awesome. Thanks so much for joining us. How can—

Burrito Justice: [00:33:39] Thanks for having me.

Annalee: [00:33:40] How can people find more Burrito online.

Burrito Justice: [00:33:43] Probably Twitter is your best bet. I sadly do not update the blog nearly as much as I used to because—

Annalee: [00:33:50] So, you’re Burrito Justice on Twitter.

Burrito Justice: [00:33:51] Yes. Yes. Because of kids and time and I’m tired. But, if you want to see 280 characters or whatever worth of me venting about things and the future and burritos and el camino [crosstalk], you know.

Charlie Jane: [00:34:06] Taco boats.

Burrito Justice: [00:34:06] Then that’s the—that’s the taco boats, that’s the place to go.

Annalee: [00:34:10] Awesome. Thanks a lot.

Charlie Jane: [00:34:11] Thanks so much, thanks for joining us.

Burrito Justice: [00:34:11] Thanks for having me.

[00:34:13] Transition music plays briefly (similar to intro music).

Annalee: [00:34:16] You’ve been listening to Our Opinions Are Correct. Please come back in a couple weeks and listen to our next episode. You can find us on Stitcher, on Apple Podcasts, on Google Play podcasts, and pretty much anywhere where fine podcasts are found. And please do rate us and review us on your favorite podcast application because that really helps people find us and know what we’re all about. You can follow us on Twitter at @OOACpod. You can find us on the interwebs at OurOpinionsArCorrect.com

[00:34:46] And thanks to Veronica Simonetti at Women’s Audio Mission for amazing engineering on this episode, and to Chris Palmer who wrote us a new theme song. So, see you next week, or… I mean I’ll hear you—hear you in two weeks, Charlie.

Charlie Jane: [00:34:57] You’ll hear us in two weeks. Don’t forget to ride the taco boat.

[00:35:03] Outro music plays. Drums with a bass line including bass drops.

Annalee Newitz