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Dad, it’s all a blur!


Ben couldn’t take his eyes off the sights outside his window. Trees were streaks of green and brown with occasionally a hint of yellow and red. He, like most everyone else onboard, had never been on a magnetic levitation train before. The short track from the airport was just the first leg of a planned national network of super-fast transport between cities. Hopefully soon many more people could share in Ben’s window-gazing. Oooh, there goes a red swoosh--maybe it’s a Ferrari or something.

Only thirty minutes after their plane touched down, the train carrying Ben, Mom, Dad, his little sister Natalie, and hundreds of others began to slow for its final approach into Apollo. Dad had paged through the tourist brochures and played the video advertisements so many times over the past few months; the whole family knew his mind had long ago arrived at the station. They could only afford a three day vacation in “The City of the Optimistic Future” so everyone picked their sightseeing priorities in advance. Mom, the engineer, was curious to see the energy plant. Dad, the political activist, wanted to visit City Congress. Natalie wanted to see flowers--just flowers--but that was fine for an eight year old. Ben wanted to see and do everything a bright fourteen year old brain could take in. A childhood spent building models was growing into a desire to build bigger life-size things. Apollo was the place to fulfill that desire.

Now moving at a relative snail’s pace, the maglev dipped below ground level along with the highway its track ran down the middle of. We must be getting close. Ben didn't see much of the city before the tunnel but that was because much of the city hadn't been built yet. That’s what families like Ben’s were there for. Tourists flocked from around the world to Apollo for “adventure vacations” that mixed relaxation, entertainment, and education. Its theme park-inspired rides weren't just passive experiences--they turned the very act of building the city into the show. Apollo was the first large-scale expression of the concept, and judging by the number of people filling the maglev, it was pretty successful so far.

Ben exited the maglev to find himself in what could be best described as a cathedral for trains. This was the central transportation hub for the city. Wood and steel beams supporting hundreds of delicate glass panels gracefully arched over the multiple sleek bullets waiting to whisk more people off to other destinations. But what drew the most attention was what could be seen through the glass. Steps outside the train station was the city’s main street, perfectly framing the iconic skyscraper that lie at its heart. Ben was pretty sure of his bearings but the giant map in the station helped him double-check. They were very near the junction of the eight giant circular transportation arteries that defined the city’s shape. Apollo was planned to eventually be over seven miles wide and be home to hundreds of thousands of people. The circular arteries were designed so that if you ever became lost, following any one of them would easily return you to the city core. It was also a strong physical representation of the city founders’ philosophy that everything and everyone is interconnected.

A UNIFYING PLAN  /  Apollo is located between the Northern California city of Fairfield and town of Rio Vista. This site plan shows how each area of the the city is classified by form-based building codes that dictate building size/character rather than purpose (for more information on form-based codes, visit the Center for Applied Transect Studies). Approximately 95% of Apollo's residents are within a half mile of a travel pod station (indicated in yellow). Most of the northern half of the city is set aside for an expanded Jepson Prairie Preserve.

No transportation was needed to the next destination besides good old-fashioned feet. Built into the transportation hub was the Hotel Zephyr. Dad wanted to stay in something less “bustling” but Mom was a huge train nerd. There was little debate on whether or not to stay at the train-themed hotel. At check-in, everyone was given instructions on how to download a special application for their communicators (or "comms" for short--perople stopped calling them phones long ago). Ben had been enjoying his own fancy device since his last birthday but Natalie was ecstatic to finally get her own--even if it was only three days rental. The app was meant to be the end-all, be-all resource throughout the vacation. It functioned as everyone’s maps, tickets, dining reservations, and translator (Apollo took great pride in its growing international character). The helpful gentleman at the front desk said it could even interact with some of the shows and rides. When Mom opened the door to their room her jaw nearly hit the floor. Every piece of furniture and light fixture was inspired by the history and design of trains from steam to maglev. Dad’s favorite were the beds that floated off the ground using a magnetic field. Only with the full weight of his inner child could his jumping make them wobble even slightly.

“Who’s hungry?” said Dad, no doubt having worked up an appetite on his mattress trampoline. Countless unique restaurants dotted the city but it was Natalie’s suggestion of the vertical farm that ultimately won out. Ben thought she might have been under the impression that there were flying cows there, but he was so hungry it didn’t matter where they went. The farm was a few miles away so it seemed like a perfect excuse to try out the famous intracity transportation system.

Back at the train station and two levels above the maglevs were the intracity platforms. On the way from the hotel, Mom used her comm to reserve a table at the farm. Along with a confirmation number, the app locked on to her location and automatically requested a travel pod for the family. The pod recognized their approach and opened its doors. No waiting, no hassle--all Mom had to do was press “proceed to destination” on the comm once everyone was seated. The electric motor let out a little whine and they were off.

Travel pods rode on elevated guideways but they weren’t bound by a track. If your destination was far off a guideway, the pods could take ramps down to normal streets and still automatically navigate. A traditional steering wheel and pedals could be used to override the computer (but not on the guideways--those were meant for fast and carefully coordinated travel). Being elevated again meant Ben could gaze out the windows and get a good overview of the city. They quickly passed by one of the elementary schools. Dad explained how their curriculum was structured around what students chose to learn, not necessarily what a textbook said they should do next. Each student had a tablet that could access a universe of information. Teachers started class with everyone on the same page embedded with links to related content. By tallying up the links that the majority of students wanted to explore next, class felt more like a personalized adventure rather than a mundane series of readings and tasks. If I went to that school, I’d never wish for snow days...well, almost never. 

STUDENT CHOICE  /  Conceptual overview of the Springboard Education Application; one of the many tools that schools in Apollo use to keep students engaged and empower them to determine part of their own curriculum.

The farm was clearly visible from even a mile away. Apollo had a variety of architectural styles but a farm contained within a huge glass sphere really stood out. Most of the produce and grain consumed in the city was grown within its boundaries. The goal was to someday go from “most” to “all.” Vertical farms of all shapes and sizes helped reach that goal with as little stress on the land as possible. The most unique of them was Ol’Macks Biosphere.


Bill and Jean MacDonald once owned a beautiful farm on the rolling plains of Nebraska. It had been a family enterprise for nearly a century but the dominance of large agribusiness made it more and more difficult to get by in recent years. Jean was the one who discovered an article about the then-unbuilt Apollo and convinced Bill to restart a newer and more sustainable farm there. It also turned out to be an opportunity to finally realize Jean’s dream of starting a restaurant. Their combination of an old-fashioned Midwestern mentality with cutting-edge growing techniques spawned the restaurant’s tagline, “The Down-Home Cooking of Tomorrow, Today!”

But what really set them apart were the boats. Diners were taken by elevator all the way to the top of the dome where small circular boats with tables onboard awaited. A water channel coursed through each level of the farm. Waterwheel-like mechanisms gently carried boats down from one level to the next. Servers followed tables throughout the entire experience. Each section of the menu (appetizers, entrees, desserts, etc.) corresponded with what was cultivated on the level on which they were served. Diners could see clearly the origin of their food. Ben decided to have the shrimp salad after the boat went through the aquaculture level where curving transparent acrylic walls allowed fish to swim all around passing boats. Mom and Dad ordered the meatloaf. Cattle and poultry grazed pastures on the outskirts of the city; the MacDonald’s didn’t think it would be appetizing, for multiple reasons, to see the origin of tasty steak and fried chicken. But since one of the fundamental tenets of the Apollo concept was to make accessible all the inner workings of everyday life, Bill and Jean did offer tours of those parts of their farm as well. Natalie got her wish to see flowers in a really fun way: she ordered a salad made entirely with edible blooms. Mom didn’t think she’d take more than one bite so she was pleasantly surprised when Natalie was the first to clean her plate. To finish, everyone had strawberry shortcake. Seeing thousands of red berries in a two-story tall swirling hydroponic assembly was way more enticing than any picture on the menu.

Dad and Ben stopped by the farm’s store after dinner; they wanted to pick up some of the apples that looked so good a few levels up. It was here that they first experienced the unique economic system of Apollo.  A woman at the head of the line went up to the cashier with a few ears of corn, waved a comm over a sensor, said thank you, and walked off. It looked like a normal transaction but Dad noticed the cashier’s display showed “$0.00” Puzzled, Dad asked the cashier, “Pardon me, are you offering free corn?” She smiled politely (as she got these kinds of questions all the time) and went on to explain what happened. The previous customer, who was a resident, paid for the corn using her “basics basket.” Every resident of Apollo was guaranteed by law the resources necessary to sustain at least a simple and comfortable quality of life. This included housing, health care, and food, among other things. The woman was allotted a “basket” of goods each month based on nutritional needs and the size of her family. Anything beyond the scope of one’s “basket” could be purchased with personal income. Wow! No one starves and everyone still has the chance to buy what they want! “And how residents get paid in their jobs is a whole ‘nother story,” the cashier said. Dad wanted to know more but there were a few impatient customers behind him. The cashier did feel it necessary to explain one more thing: since Dad wasn’t a resident, he’d have to pay for his apples. Revenue from tourists was a significant driver behind expansion of the city and its businesses. They may not have been free, but boy were those apples sweet!

Stomachs filled, the family planned for the next day’s activities back at the hotel. Of course the headliner “build-a-home” ride was a must-do and Mom was anxious to see the energy plant, but they didn’t want to over-schedule what was supposed to be a vacation. Mom arranged for the ride, the plant tour, and also checked a box allowing the scheduler to throw in a few random surprises along the way. Dad thought another urgent appointment was in order--one with him and Mom for an evening swim at the hotel’s pool. Natalie and Ben gladly jumped straight into their floating beds.

Tomorrow’s going to be an even bigger adventure than today.



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