The windows of Lupita’s Mexican Restaurant, 700 Main St., provide a real-time view of the intersection of Main Street and Custer Avenue. But diners who turn their eyes in the other direction can fast-forward to a picture of that corner in 2020.
On the west wall of the restaurant hangs a canvas by Evanston artist Paul Barker, setting forth his vision of an environmentally responsible future played out on the Main-Custer corner 11 years from now.
Combining his passions for art and the environment, the artist painted the 5×18-foot mural during this year’s Custer Street Fair held June 20-21.
“I wanted to find a way to use my artistic skills to create propaganda for a sustainable future,” says Mr. Barker who has painted realistic scenic murals for zoos, aquariums, museums and theme parks nationwide for over two decades.
In the mural Main Street has been converted to a pedestrian mall. Permeable pavers that allow grass to grow up between the stones have replaced asphalt and concrete.
“This takes a lot of pressure off the storm sewers and promotes tree growth, but requires the City to mow the streets and sidewalks half the year,” says Mr. Barker.
Most people in his mural walk or transport purchases, kids and pets on a variety of bikes, trikes, pedi-cabs and other human-powered devices. Car traffic is minimal. Twikes – hybrid tricycle/electric cars – or cars and vans powered by compressed air serve as foul-weather transportation.
The el tracks have become a pedestrian jogging and biking trail. Public transportation takes the form of a monorail that hangs above the trail and consists of four- to six-person pods that deliver the rider to any station in the system via an individual route computed on board by voice command.
Greenery covers the area. A “vertical garden” grows up the exterior walls of the post office building, and rooftops overflow with plant life and windmills.
Awnings and south-facing slanted roofs have photovoltaic solar collecting surfaces in elm green.
Wildlife abounds, but deer and birds are kept in check by sonic barriers. Streetlights have been replaced with knee-high indirect lighting that allows people to see the stars after sunset.
In the distance are green architecture high-rise buildings in which each unit has a garden. Rigid dirigibles flying overhead have replaced delivery trucks on the ground. These blimp-like vehicles also do the heavy lifting for construction.
“The dirigibles only work in good weather,” says Mr. Barker. “A more expensive alternative is the VTOL (Vertical Take Off/Landing aircraft), a cross between a fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft that utilizes rooftop helipads.”
When Mr. Barker heard the Custer Street Fair would have a green theme this year, he went directly to the fair organizers to propose his idea. Mr. Barker was given permission to hang the large canvas against the wall below the el tracks at Custer and Main. In preparation for the event, Mr. Barker researched current sustainable technologies, making a commitment to incorporate only existing products into the mural.
“Most futurists like H.G. Wells or Jules Verne have indulged their freedom to imagine technologies that don’t exist,” says Mr. Barker. “Nothing in this mural is imaginary, speculative or awaiting discovery. All of these technologies exist somewhere today. We simply need to put them to use.”
Mr. Barker took panoramic photos of the intersection, taped the photos together and traced them onto paper. He then drew the futuristic intersection onto the canvas with pencil before the painting at the fair actually began. He painted the people and vehicles ahead of time on cut-out canvas so they could be appliquéd to the mural after the scenery was painted.
Due to a minor glitch in the appliqué process the mural was not entirely completed by the end of the Custer Street Fair but was later displayed at the Evanston Ethnic Arts Festival on July 18-19 and then moved to Lupita’s.
Mr. Barker emphasizes that the mural is just one man’s vision and says he hopes the painting will make people feel optimistic about the future.
“If people don’t agree with it, that’s fine,” says Mr. Barker. “The whole purpose is to get people thinking about what we want. The future will be what we collectively envision.”