I always say that my favorite time of day in downtown Austin is about 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning. The popular downtown district (6th Street, 4th Street, etc.) was jammed with pedestrians, cars, and litter only a few hours earlier. But at that time, it’s empty and peaceful… and almost eerie in a weird kinda way. So, I really enjoyed reading Jonathan Bell’s essay, “London Sprawling,” which ruminates about the idea of empty city streets.
But, also, he delves into what they mean for beloved science fiction like The Twilight Zone or Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later (those of us who saw it at Cannes should also add The Host to that list). But, more than that, he contextualizes it in the frame of city planning and art history. Here’s an excerpt:
The static city has long been grist for science fiction, representing the hubristic conjunction of man’s achievements and his subsequent obliteration; the empty city either presages imminent catastrophe or its immediate aftermath. We should be careful what we wish for. The opening scenes of 28 Days Later, with the protagonist in empty London streets with just a tipped-over, burned-out Routemaster bus for company, give me a frisson of jealousy (the camera necessarily keeps the massed crowds of commuters just out of shot behind barriers, waiting impatiently with lattes and briefcases in hand for the scene to wrap so they can get to work). John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids (1951) contains one of the original abandoned-city themes: A meteor shower renders almost all of humanity blind and imperilled by predatory, moving plants. The playground of an empty world inevitably has a fatal flipside.
Thanks to GreenCine for the link.