How many times our future has been in front of us, and we have not been able to see it? The day when two strangers shared a glance, and the fate of both was already cast, or the day we applied for that job that contained everything that would come, or a trip overseas that brought unexpected consequences and changed our lives forever. Some say that, when looking carefully, we can see the ocean in a drop of water. But, in the face of this existential myopia, we are also given the possibility of imagining the future, that is, to think what could become of us and those around us beyond the present moment. While enjoying a quiet vacation or commuting to work in a crowded city, we all enjoy the most democratic of rights: the right to dream and plan our steps forward amidst the world’s turmoil. Yet, we dream dedicatedly and often; our dreams become smoke that dissipates to give way to the cold and objective reality.
But what to do with those castles built in the air? What to do with those detailed and creative plans that do not see the light of real life? What use could we give to the collection of that fantastic architecture of the soul carefully built on sand, facing the sea of reality? I don’t know, but I know someone who seems to know.
Eugene Byrne is a local Bristol historian and author who published in 2013 the book “Unbuilt Bristol: The City That Might Have Been 1750-2050”. Occasionally he serves as a tourist guide. His tour requires a bit of imagination: he has dedicated his local tours to showing buildings, monuments and projects that do not exist because they never materialised. Either because of the lack of financial support, their disproportionate nature or because they were considered ridiculous plans to those in charge of approving them.
Byrne focuses on what could have been. His interest in these projects raises questions to us, inhabitants of the present: Could some of these projects have made the city a better place? How would have they changed the face of the town? Unfortunately, we will never know because these projects are part of the future that we can only imagine but not see.
The question that awakens me is: Is the future in front of us like one of those buildings that we cannot see? What would happen if we could look into the future and see it as one of those buildings? What would we see?
But no. The only way to peer into that future is through plans, sketches and sketches that the imagination unfolds in our minds: the map of what the tomorrow could be—the language of the subjunctive tense and the approaches that fantasy and poetry bring to hand.
After all, the future seems to be a kind of unicorn. A word that describes something that does not exist, that no one has seen or will ever see, but that we can all imagine somehow. Perhaps, it is far enough for us.