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The shape-changing city on wheels

Posting in Cities

It looks as much lego and Mayan pyramid as it does city of the future. But this model shows how Islandopolis can spatially morph, bringing the park to you rather than you to the park.

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Last week I wrote about a town in Sweden that's moving brick-by-brick to a location two miles away. The blogging process then hit on all cylinders, as reader Edward Farmer emailed and alerted me to an even more mind-blowing approach to urban invigoration: The ever changing city on wheels built on rail tracks, in which buildings that are east of you today could be west tomorrow.

First, my disclaimer: This is a concept that if nothing else captures the imagination. We like imagination here at SmartPlanet, so it seemed worth a shout even if it does reside somewhere between reality, vision, art and science fiction. But I'm wondering: Why? Some of us have a hard enough time figuring out where we are in the morning without discovering that the mayor has replaced the bread shop across the street with a football stadium.

Cities on wheels could change their look and shape as easily as Mr. Potato Head.

Now without further ado, meet a project called Icelandtraincity/Islandopolis, conceived by a Frenchman whose own name sounds more like a city than a person, Etienne de France.

De France has an apocalyptic future in mind. His setting, as the name suggests, is Iceland about 40 years from now, when there are no more cars and buses because there are no fossil fuels to power them.

Islandopolis is divided into modular districts, each on wheeled foundations. "This movement allows a regular change of neighborhood and more equal access to utility building, facilities and public spaces," de France says on his website.

He acknowledges that the project is "experimentation" and "visual arts." But he believes it could offer doses of practicality in all sorts of climates. For instance, big buildings could shift to the north in the winter time to block out Arctic winds. Greenhouses could roll south to maximize exposure to the sun.

For an egalitarian touch: Why not give all residents six-month stints of prime lakeside locations by transporting their homes?

At any rate, thank you to Mr. Farmer for drawing this to our attention. When he's not reading SmartPlanet, he's helping to run data visualization company DataMarket.

Some of you will find this whole notion to be comical. Whether you do or not, here's some more amusement for the day: Try saying "the shapeshifting city" ten times in a row.

Photo of model is from Icelandtraincity/Islandopolis website. Photo of Mr. Potato Head is from Ian Muttoo via Wikimeda

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— By on September 30, 2013, 9:12 PM PST

Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure