As a kid growing up several hundred miles from the nearest metropolis, I used to draw fantastical visions of the great cities of the future. There would be moving sidewalks on every surface. (“Walking” was over.) Hover-taxis, hover-skateboards, hover-buses. (Hovering was a central element of my urban planning.) Also, sleek monorails conducted by robots, zipping noiselessly between glittering towers that vanished into cloudbanks and reappeared above them, miles in the sky. People would dress in jumpsuits like Mork, and there would be a vast dome over the city, which would have its own computer- controlled weather. (Domes were easy to draw.) The Jetsonian future was clear.
In the real world, of course, where urban centers are composed of layers of development and decay, constructing the city of the future is not so simple. What makes a city cutting-edge? And which American metropolis can rightly claim the title of top tech city? More than a year ago, a crack team of editors and researchers here at Popular Science launched an exhaustive effort to find out. We input reams of data from dozens of private and government sources, tabulated our results, and came up with ... Minneapolis.
We restarted the computer, and it still said Minneapolis. And so it was that I was told to pack my bags for a mission: I was to “test drive” the city, to immerse myself in this technopolis, to divine firsthand the ways in which our winner expresses its technological preeminence. Now, obviously there is something rather artificial about such an assignment. The technological accomplishments that define Minneapolis provide benefits designed primarily for the city’s residents, not tourists. I’d be in the city for less than a week. But such limitations only made my quest to understand this place that much more delectable: I would visit its most visionary structures, meet its most plugged-in citizens, experience the very cream of its technological offerings.
Living in New York, my associations with Minneapolis quite frankly amounted to an ignorant pop-cultural stew of Coen brothers movies, pro-wrestler politicians, Wobegon lakes, and artists now and again known as Prince. This, my editors assured me, provided me with the advantage of an unprejudiced mind. Still, I needed to ground myself in the city’s bona fides.
What made Minneapolis our high-tech champ? It ranked first among U.S. cities in innovative transportation solutions, fourth in energy technology. The city fell above the 50th percentile in every category measured, a broad-based showing of tech savvy that set it apart from the competition. With everything averaged together, there is no city in America where a culture of high technology has a more pervasive presence.
I knew I should keep my hopes in check, but as I set off for the airport, I couldn’t help wondering: Would Minneapolis be the city of the future I’d fantasized about since childhood?
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.