This is part 5 of a 6-part series covering “Cities in the Year 2000”, a kids’ book on cities published in 1985. Here are parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. I suggest reading on a desktop, as the screenshots of the pages should be large enough to read (hopefully).

There’s not much to note on this first page, except: “once we move to a big city our choices are multiplied… different things we may do each day [and] different things in which we can live. Variety is what cities are famous for”.

But it’s not all beer and skittles: “city life in fact is often hard. There is much competition and people have to work hard and struggle… what you can do in a city often depends on how much money you have”.

“At one time the cities of the West were the world centres of manufacture… but new technology is changing all this”.

Cities have increasingly shifted to service-based economies.

“Jobs which were done by people can now be done by computers… by the year 2000 more and more trains will have no drivers, but be operated by computer ‘brains’”.

This is increasingly common overseas – Vancouver’s Skytrain, etc – and of course trains will be among the easiest mode of transport for implementing driverless technology.

Large cities have always been storehouses of information. But now a businessman in a small town can use a computer linked to a large central information system to get the latest prices or news in seconds. Will this lead to companies leaving big cities because there is no reason for them to be there?

People could even work from home, using a computer… to communicate with their clients and colleagues… people who prefer to work with other people around them may find an office near their home where they can have company and can share the use and cost of expensive electronic equipment.

The answer to the first question is no, at least not so far. Big companies are inextricably linked to cities. And although working from home is easier today, it hasn’t really taken off. This may still change in future. As for the last part of the quote, it’s essentially talking about ‘serviced offices’ or Generator-type facilities, and those are becoming increasingly popular – although “expensive electronic equipment” probably isn’t a key factor now!

“By the year 2000… richer countries can expect to see a shorter working week, earlier retirement, and more job sharing”.

People have been predicting this for at least the last century, but it hasn’t quite panned out so far! Some interesting stuff on this by and about Keynes – 1, 2, 3 – but it goes back further than that.

This talks about some of the downsides of cars – local pollution, traffic jams and “urban expressways [carving] their way through cities, dividing communities and destroying local buildings”. Lead in petrol also had issues.

There was recognition that oil could and would become more expensive, and so “the cars of the future must be small and efficient”, and perhaps even powered by electricity.

As it turned out, oil prices have been very hard to predict, and they remained quite low for the rest of the ‘80s, the ‘90s and into the early 2000s. Then they were high again from roughly 2005-2014, and now they’ve gone right back down for the last three years.

Anyway, that’s by the bye. Another key point is that cars haven’t become more fuel-efficient as predicted, except where regulation has forced the issue. That might be starting to change, in response to higher oil prices and emerging technology – I probably need to update my data on this.

Climate change and global warming aren’t mentioned here; they weren’t widely known concepts in the ‘80s, although scientists were certainly starting to become concerned.

As for the monorail and airship shown in the image – those haven’t quite panned out…

This page talks about ‘off-road’ transport like subways or monorails, waterways and air transport. Much of our thinking has moved on from what’s shown here, but still relevant is:

“A car can transport only [4-6] people. The average bus cannot hold much more than forty people. Long ago it was realized that other types of transport would be needed for the modern city, where great masses of people have to get to work and back home again… a single track of a modern electric [subway] system, such as that used in Tokyo, can carry over 70 000 passengers an hour. An electric underground system causes no traffic jams, no air pollution, and it takes up very little land on the surface”.

Over 70,000 passengers per an hour. Wow, someone should really send Elon Musk a copy of this book!

Cities also mean “a mixture of people who would not otherwise live side by side. People of different race and nationality can meet and learn about each other’s customs and beliefs”. That one’s still a work in progress, and perhaps it always will be. Auckland’s an excitingly diverse city, but

In looking at the problems of cities it is easy to forget that cities are often very exciting and enjoyable places. While there are slums and traffic jams there are also theatres, concerts, new fashions, amazing buildings, parks and galleries, zoos, cinemas and sporting events.

Entertainment is an important part of city life. We shall be making the most of it in 2000!

Heck yeah.

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  1. Does it mention that small cities might fade away? I’m in Hastings today – and it just feels like all human life has died. Auckland might be booming – but provincial NZ is hovering near death.

    1. It is an inevitable agglomeration effect.

      With the advancement of technology and machinery replacing labors, we don’t need many people to “farm” or “mine” the area surrounding a province city.

      With a shrinking production population, the small town local jobs such as fixing cars, shops, bakery, barber will soon have less customers and some of them will be unemployed.

      Some manufacturers will also relocate to closer to big city – where there is better transport infrastructure. Also factory get the agglomeration effect – as factories can work together if they are closer together.

      So more and more people will move to city for more job opportunities.

      Eventually the province town will only needs a small population to farm and mine the nearby resources.

      Some smaller province towns will also merge. So the smallest towns will disappear.

      1. In part, it’s also an effect from our industrial approach to agriculture, which is less labour-intensive, but ruining our soil and waterways in the process. Although having said that, if we were to make our agricultural and horticultural practices sustainable and do the same with transport at the same time, farms would be small, employing more staff, and clustered around the edges of cities.

    2. Some of it is also just communities deciding what they want and what they value. E.g. Palmy has a new year’s event attended by thousands, while Hamilton has nothing. Hamilton is about twice the size of Palmy. Palmy have decided entertaining people is important. I don’t know why. It’s not like they get big well known bands or anything, but it seems to be popular.

  2. Cant say I see the electric car as the future not without an oil industry, but like most people in those days I to thought oil would peak and then start to decline, but we hadn’t figured in that oil would prosper as long as the industry can borrow money and throw it into none profitable or dubious oil production, tar sands, fracking, bio diesel, deep water oil, all with lower energy returns and more CO2 and methane.

    I don’t see a rosy future for cities not without a viable oil industry, peasant farming took about 80% of the population but the horses and oxen needed a big area of land which is not available now and I know of no electric tractors that could replace oil power for food production, when I was young and all the local farms used horses for all there power the population of the world was 2.3 billion and the UK with 46 million needed to import food, aren’t we lucky we still have a small population.

        1. I’ve just been looking at the fish that can be farmed I was hoping tilapia would be among them but sadly no. I think for cities to be more self sufficient aquaponics would be one way of growing food without the food miles and destruction of the soils we see in modern farming methods.

          I hadn’t realized even with no tillage we still have losses of CO2, my way of growing my vegetables is by heavy mulching with grass and planting with out any cultivation, but I do have plenty of grass among the trees and a sickle mower. but not horse drawn like they had on the farms I used to play on. there’s nothing like hay making with horses, no noise or fumes but very labour intensive, a lot of fun though.

      1. The electric tractor shows the limitations of battery power it would be at the lower end of the power rating of modern combine harvesters and would run for less than an hour under full load. We use electric chain saws and battery mowers but the battery ones only run for about 20 mins. we have extra batteries but the cost is high and unlikely to be affordable as oil is phased out.

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