The dreams of today will secure tomorrow Visionary: The stories of writer Ray Bradbury have fired the imaginations of countless readers for nearly a half-century.

December 06, 1998|By JOHN GEIRLAND

LONG before NASA's robotic Pathfinder rumbled across the rocky soil of Mars, Ray Bradbury owned the Red Planet in the popular imagination, courtesy of "The Martian Chronicles" (1950).

His 600-plus short stories have laid claim to other worlds. "The Veldt" (1950) inspired a generation of smart-home and virtual-reality pioneers. "A Sound of Thunder" (1952) illustrated chaos theory's butterfly effect years before the theory existed.

The fireman Montag's dash for freedom, televised by pursuing helicopters in "Fahrenheit 451" (1953), could be on Fox-TV's fall schedule. In fact, cameras are ready to roll on Mel Gibson's version of "Fahrenheit 451," and Avon Books is reissuing many of Bradbury's titles.

The man who said "Give me an ounce of fact, and I will produce you a ton of theory by tea this afternoon" is also an urban-design consultant. His ideas have contributed to Disney's Epcot and the revitalization of downtown Los Angeles.

Here, the 78-year-old author talks about how far we've come from the future he envisioned in the 1950s.

Describe the city of the future.

Disneyland! They've done everything right. It has hundreds of trees and thousands of flowers we don't need, but which they put in anyway. It has fountains and places to sit. I've visited Disneyland 30 or 40 times over the years, and there's very little I would change. Of course, Paris is where Walt Disney learned all of his lessons.

I once called John Hench at Disney Imagineering: "John, for God's sake, I just noticed Viollet le Duc's Notre Dame spire on the side of Sleeping Beauty's castle."

"That's right," he said. "Walt put it there."

What other lessons can we take from the City of Light?

The secret of cities is the conviviality of food. Paris has 20,000 restaurants - if you build a city with 20,000 restaurants, you have a social city.

The United States, and especially Los Angeles, has forgotten how to eat, how to dine. We need cities where people can meet, shop and enjoy themselves. That's all cities are, and all they ever will be.

You want to shut down LA's freeways. Is that practical?

We can eliminate cars and get back to public transit. I've lived in Los Angeles 64 years, and I don't have a driver's license.

Cars have destroyed cities. And the reason there's traffic on the freeway is because the freeway is there. Freeway driving has nothing to do with real business needs. It's an excuse for getting out of the office.

Once the freeways are gone, you propose to build 80 plazas throughout the LA area. What do you have in mind?

I created a blueprint for an ideal plaza - 400 tables, a thousand chairs in the open, all kinds of restaurants surrounding it and theaters at the four corners: a motion picture theater, a silent motion-picture theater, a theater for dramatic presentations and a music hall presenting all kinds of things, including symphonies and rock. You have to have a social mix.

A lot of your work has predicted the future.

Yes, and almost everything in "Fahrenheit 451" has come about, one way or the other: the influence of television, the rise of local TV news, the neglect of education. As a result, one area of our society is brainless. But I utilized those things in the novel because I was trying to prevent a future, not predict one.

The authorities in "Fahrenheit 451" also eliminated porches to reduce social interaction. Has this come to pass?

It varies from territory to territory. I was in Omaha recently, and my God! The size of the lawns and porches and the feeling of community was incredible. We've been so busy building outside the city that the city centers are falling apart. Now we're building substitute cities, such as malls - substitutes for what we used to have in every downtown in America.

How would you change the educational system?

President Clinton says he wants to wire every schoolroom. I say it should happen in third grade, maybe, but kindergarten through second grade has got to educate kids to read and write. Otherwise they have no tools. Get education back on a local level where it's controlled by teachers, parents and students. What do governments know about education? Nothing.

Somewhere in a third-grade class there is a nine-year-old who will be walking on Mars in 2020. How should we prepare that kid?

We already are - my fellow writers and myself. Albert Schweitzer said: Do something wonderful, people may imitate it. If you dream the proper dreams, and share the myths with people, they will want to grow up to be like you. All the astronauts I meet tell me they have been influenced by me to grow up the way they did. If you and I dream properly and creatively, then the future will be secured. But reality will kill you unless you deal with it through myths and metaphors. The trouble with people who write realistically is that they want to electrocute you.

What myths should we share?

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