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Liam Young’s Planet City has us feeling Optimistic about a Sustainable Future 

Finally someone’s done it – filmmaker and architect Liam Young’s film Planet City goes beyond the short-term fixes and imagines the sprawling, futuristic city that could house the world’s entire population in a sustainable way. 

While a fictional future, Young’s vision offers examples of real lifestyle changes we may have to make, and aims to inspire honest conversations about what we can really do to give the planet’s story an alternative ending.

Los Angeles based Young creates visions of the future based on some of the scarier truths about urban life today. His latest project – a beautiful and surreal 16-minute animated film titled Planet City – depicts a day in the life of a futuristic mega-metropolis housing 10 billion people. Both dystopique and utopian, Planet City illustrates the extreme measures humankind may have to take to combat the many problems arising from rampant urbanisation.

Young’s vision is a refreshing, proactive response to the latest IPCC report which unsurprisingly reminds us of how screwed we really are when it comes to climate change and how no one seems to be doing anything about it.  Governments and corporations often claim that new technologies will come to the rescue and allow us to live more sustainably in the future, but Liam believes it’s already too late to turn to technology for solutions.

Planet City came about following a commission from the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, which invited Liam to develop work in response to the theme of climate change for the NGV Triennial 2020. Liam developed a proposal which sees the entire projected population of the Earth in 2050 housed in “a hyper-dense, self-sufficient and circular metropolis” that would allow the rest of the planet to regenerate itself through a process of re-wilding. Planet City explores the productive potential of extreme densification, and demonstrates what the world might look like if we managed to reverse the current process of planetary sprawl.

The project isn’t only sensible, sensitive and sustainable but also extremely artistic and creative. It includes a short film depicting a day in the life of Planet City. Set to an ambient, synthy soundtrack by producer and composer Forest Swords, it depicts scenes of imagined urban landscapes interspersed with surreal visions of the characters who might live and work in the ever-evolving metropolis. Dressed in outfits created by Ane Crabtree – the designer behind costumes seen in hit movies and shows, including Westworld and The Handmaid’s Tale – we witness bot herders, algae divers, drone shepherds and harvest bots dancing as if participating in a carnival procession that weaves its way through the city.

Each scene in the film tells a story about how the metropolis would be created and how it would function. As we move through the layers of the city, we see the high-density fruit farms that provide food for the population, as well as the vertical walls of solar panels that generate the city’s energy. One of the criticisms levelled at renewable energy is that the power it provides is not consistent and requires hugely resource-intensive battery systems to support it.

As well as being artistic, the project is also well researched. Young did his research and worked with experts in pumped-storage hydropower to show how energy generated by solar panels and wind turbines could be used to pump water into high-altitude holding lakes. A system of dams would then provide hydro power at times of peak demand. The lakes also become algae farms and fish farms that produce food for the city. Food waste is then converted by bioreactors into fish food that goes back to the fish farms, forming a circular system. Everything in this fantastical future world is rendered in shades of pinkish-purple, resulting from the combination of red and blue light required to support the growth of plants through photosynthesis.

Planet City has already racked up thousands of views, clicks and comments and thankfully, the project is succeeding in its main mission to spark debate and encourage alternative thinking. 

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