COVER STORY: What will the North Shore look like in the future?
His trailer’s flat roof and plastic siding match the rows of squat homes under the Lions Gate Bridge. Past the shrubs and gravel driveway, plastic furniture and a few plants sit on the porch.
There’s no way to tell Frank Ogden, a renowned futurist, lived in the nondescript trailer just months earlier. Nothing is visibly high-tech about the home, no antennae shoot out from the roof, no mass of cables lead in.
For such an influential thinker, whose predictions included the Internet’s eminent impact, Ogden’s trailer is shockingly ordinary.
But ordinary “Dr. Tomorrow” was not.
Some called him loony, others a genius, but no one can doubt that many of the computer pioneer’s odd predictions have come true.
Before passing away in December at the age of 92, he wrote 20-plus books about the role of technology and government in the future, including predicting the dominance of computers in our daily lives and the invention of e-books.
While these predictions may seem somewhat mundane now, they were once just as outrageous as his more recent forecasts of teleporting and extensive body implants creating cyborgs out of humans.
And Ogden didn’t just tell the future, he played a part in it by being one the first people to create a home page on the Internet and conduct international seminars by satellite.
Ogden’s trailer overlooked Capilano River with Park Royal South in one direction and the North Shore’s iconic mountains in the other.
What did he think this view would look like in the future?
Will it be nearly the sam
e, with a few worn-out buildings replaced here and there, or would extensive change leave it unrecognizable?
Despite more apartments and condos popping up, particularly in North Vancouver, the North Shore consists mainly of single-family homes.
People move here, if they can afford it, to have the unique opportunity to live close to the mountains, the ocean and downtown Vancouver.
Despite population growth, the community won’t lose its neighbourhoods of large houses, say community planners from each municipality.
But these houses will look completely different in the future, according to Odgen’s predictions.
Canadian construction will face a tough time, as overseas companies start to build ceramic houses in just 40 minutes, he predicts. It’s impossible for these homes to catch on fire and they incorporate new technology Western countries have yet to discover.
“…[It’s] a process that permits the construction of 10,000 DIFFERENT homes at almost the same price per house as it costs to produce 10 current homes!” he said in a column on his website drtomorrow.com.
“To put it simply, sand (silicon and limestone) goes in one end of the production plant and a house comes out the other. On site erection time is around 2.5 hours.”
Like most of his other predictions, he doesn’t give exact dates. But rest assured, he says, these homes will quickly take over wood and cement construction.
So, according to this futurist, the North Shore could one day be row upon row of shiny, smooth and cheap homes, possibly making it easier to afford expensive real estate in this area. While the hefty price of land likely won’t go down, according to community planners, at least the price of building a house could be much more manageable.
There are many people, of course, who still want to live on the North Shore but can’t afford to buy. Instead of living in these futuristic houses, they will end up in apartments and condos.
Both North and West Vancouver plan to build more affordable housing as part of their Official Community Plans, which guide the municipalities through development.
“The areas that aren’t the four town centres will likely stay hopefully very much the way they are today,” says the District of North Vancouver’s mayor Richard Walton, looking forward 20 years.
In other words, expect big development in the four villages he’s referring to — Lynn Valley, Lower Lynn, Maplewood and on Capilano and Marine Drive —but not much elsewhere.
The town centre on Capilano Road could be the most startling contrast between before-and-after. Many of the struggling motels, Walton says says, will be replaced with apartment buildings, small independent shops, parks and a community centre.
These developments, he adds, will give North Van much-needed affordable housing options for seniors to downsize and young people to move into.
But it will be Lonsdale Avenue that continues to be the centre of North Van, says City of North Vancouver Mayor Darrell Mussatto.
Right now, 80 per cent of residents in the city live close to Lonsdale, he says, and this number will continue to grow in the next two decades. Expect taller buildings along the main road as one-storey shops are soon torn down and replaced.
But don’t worry about a highrise towering next door to your two-storey house. People living in neighbourhoods with single-family homes shouldn’t be concerned about encroaching development, Mussatto adds, because the tall buildings must stay within blocks of Lonsdale due to building by-laws.
“More people will be living in apartments so their backyard will be the city,” says the mayor, mentioning covered play areas and more public washrooms are likely in the plans.
Over in West Vancouver, development usually takes a slower place. But this doesn’t mean big projects aren’t on the agenda.
Ambleside will continue to be a main attraction for West Van residents and visitors in the next 20 years, says director of planning Bob Sokol, adding there will eventually be a continuous walkway along the waterfront.
Upcoming projects in the Upper Lands, however, will soon be another prominent weekend destination.
These mountain communities complete with town centres are planned above Highway 1 but below the 1,200-foot cutoff.
“There is a trail being built across the Rogers Creek development (in the Upper Lands). We believe once the trail is completed it will be just as big a success, and just as much a draw for the community, as the seawall is.”
Ogden had a different prediction for future development.
As land becomes more and more expensive, as it is on the North Shore, it becomes cheaper to build underground, he postulates. Once the neighbourhoods are built, the heat from human bodies will warm the complexes, and will then be sold to “old-fashioned” buildings above ground.
“…Apartments and condos facing the ‘cave’ wall will be able to select various ‘views’ of holographic-like ‘visions’ of Niagara Falls, the Serengeti Plains or the Statue of Buddha at Kamakora,” Ogden wrote online.
Again, he doesn’t give an exact date, leaving us constantly guessing.
Could these futuristic communities come true? It’s a small step, but the North Shore already has a glimpse of below-ground construction with many new developments putting parking underground instead of taking up valuable space above.
Born in the early 1920s, Frank Ogden lived through a time without cellphones, Wikipedia, Google or even computers.
Most people couldn’t fathom the idea of the Internet in a time when many still used horses for transportation. But Ogden was always ahead of his time.
His long list of jobs is diverse, with many to do with aviation including flying airplanes and helicopters and becoming a flight engineer during the Second World War. He also had a stint selling real estate and household nicknacks, as well as managing a rock radio station in Montreal.
Some of his other work was more unconventional. During the 1960s, he joined a medical team researching the effects LSD at Hollywood Hospital in New Westminster. The new psychedelic drug was banned in the United States in the mid-’60s but still legal in Canada at the time.
He also, curiously, studied voodoo and non-verbal communication in Haiti for two years.
“Voodoo priests get their information through a hierarchy of gods; we get ours through a hierarchy of technology,” he reflected on his website.
By constantly bouncing between jobs, Ogden learned more about how people act and which innovations they’re likely to pick up.
In later years, Ogden came up with a clear focus: Figuring out how new technology changes the way we live.
He ended up making a good living off his predictions by holding seminars and writing numerous books. He reportedly made around $450,000 a year and even though his speaking engagements didn’t come cheap, people still lined up to see him.
Ogden predicted Canada and other developed countries, often led by Japanese technology, would try to become more sustainable. Yes, we would still drive, he said, at least in the near future, but likely not as much.
Following suit, community planners on the North Shore are already addressing the needs of people who want to leave their cars at home, or get rid of them altogether.
In the next 20 years, more frequent bus service will cover much of North and West Van. Getting to the district of North Van’s four town centres will be easy with fast, direct bus service, says Mayor Walton, adding a SkyTrain is too big of a step in the next two decades.
“We’ll have 10-minute express service from Maplewood to Ambleside,” he adds, creating a vital link from one side of the North Shore to the other. In addition, traveling up and down Lonsdale by bus will be much faster with more frequent service.
But getting people to ditch their cars altogether will be difficult, if not impossible.
It will, however, get easier, according to Ogden, who made many predictions from his small trailer under the Lions Gate Bridge.
As far back at the 1980s, he made predictions that new technology will be useful to drivers. Instead of fumbling for change to pay for parking, he said, a prepaid Park-O-Card the size of a credit card with a small microchip and long-lasting battery could be used to pay.
“…You attach the card to your sun visor which you turn towards the driver’s side window,” he writes on his website. “The decimal point (on the metre) starts blinking to show that the card is working and also that you really do have a credit balance on the card… No hassle.”
Although this invention isn’t available in Canada (yet), it does sound remarkably similar to the new meters that take credit cards instead of just change.
Only time can tell if the North Shore will eventually have thousands of shiny ceramic houses and underground communities.
These inventions may seem far out there, but remember Ogden’s predictions such as the popularity of Picture-Perfect Phone, which sounds almost exactly like iPhone’s video chat, did so too 30-odd years ago.
So what exactly will the North Shore look like in the future? No one knows for sure, including Ogden, the mayors and municipal planners, but listening to them will give intriguing clues.