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Frankencities: An Unfolding Urban Horror Story

This project details the futures of more than 100 cities and towns across the globe as they fight to overcome all the grave environmental challenges of the 21st century. As part of this process, we are much inspired by the Utopian ideals of books like Utopia and Ecotopia. Except this, time, when it is another book entirely, Frankenstein, that inspires somewhat rather dystopian images of future European cities...

Thrown onto paper by Mary Shelley in 1816 and first published in London in January 1818. Shelley crafted the Frankenstein novel to tell the tale of a monstrous humanoid creature pulled into life by an ambitious scientist who cobbled together a terrible patchwork of dead body parts before zapping the inert organism into life with electricity. For those that have reflected upon the Frankenstein story over the past two hundred years the following themes are usually held to be important [1]:

1)    Technological Hubris. The fervent labors of Dr. Frankenstein--as he obsessively pursues his goal of creating a new human life--is a cautionary tale against the arrogance of technological over-reach.


2)    Alienation and abandonment. After birthing his creature into the world, Dr. Frankenstein then runs away from it as quickly as possible. He was originally intent on making a scientific marvel but Dr. Frankenstein had gotten it very wrong—and the people that encountered his creation usually wanted to beat it away with a stick. Frankenstein’s creature becomes alienated from humanity and from any form of civic care or companionship.


3)    Monstrosity. Dr. Frankenstein’s creation is monstrous; an inartistic unwieldy assemblage; whose figure is humungous and whose strength and stamina is superhuman. But the theme of monstrosity is not confined to the monster itself. As the story unfolds, the ‘monstrosity’ theme is transferred by Mary Shelley back onto Dr. Frankenstein--whose irrepressible feelings of horror and hatred slowly transform him into a monster as well. Frankenstein ends up stalking his creature across the whole of Europe in order and kill it

Now, what follows is an application of these ‘Frankenstein themes’ to the urban form. We do this in the belief that Shelley’s Frankenstein -- though 200 hundred years old -- may well provide a pathway to predict the character of our cities as they change over the near future.

To accomplish this, we could’ve selected a series of cities noted for their global importance, or I could’ve selected a series of cities noted for their influence in the invention and adoption of new technologies. Instead though, we’ve selected the cities that feature in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. This is fitting, in a way, since Frankenstein is not only a sci-fi horror novel, it’s also a travel story with a keen geographical sense [2].



Victor Frankenstein was born in Naples in the late 18th century; the son of a distinguished Genevese family. His parents were supposedly residing in Naples as part of an extended tour around the Italian peninsula. This fictional history is consonant with the true-life travels of Mary Shelley and her husband, the poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley, who together stayed in Naples during 1818-1819.

The Shelley’s time in Naples coincided with the coming-out of the Camorra; a once secret society turned into an openly-visible organization devoted to gambling and ‘protection’ in the city. Since then, the Camorra has become the regions’ predominant mafia group.

Nowadays, the Camorra are generally acknowledged to be big players in the environmental problems of Naples. It is estimated that over ten million tons of toxic and/or radioactive waste are illegally disposed of each year in Italy by the mafia -- all with suspiciously little response from the authorities. In some places, the garbage is piled high and set alight to create a horrific inferno. During the fire-ravaged years of 2007 and 2008, the entire region north of Naples was headlined in Italian papers as ‘Terra dei fuochi’ or ‘Land of Fires’ with toxic fumes swirling over Naples’ outlying suburbs [3].

Looking back further into history before these disasters, and throughout all of Naples’ many rises and falls, the rumbling Mount Vesuvius has lain in the background. The volcano is most famous for being the destroyer of Roman Pompei but before and since, it has devastated numerous towns nearby. Over the millennia, Vesuvius’ explosive rocky fires and gas flows have often been accompanied by massive dark clouds that expand out over thousands of miles of the Mediterranean, sometimes blocking out sunlight for weeks [4].

Luckily for the Shelleys, the mountain was quiet during their stay in the city but Vesuvius then and now is one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world both because of its volatility and because of its proximity to such a large city. Naples is now home to a population of four million.

So, let’s get to the scenario presented here for a Naples of the near future: Franken-Naples (see figure one below).


 Fig 1: Naples in the future -- by the Urban Futures team

-- As inspired by Frankenstein.

Here, an unfortunate disaster has hit the city in recent years. Columns of thick deadly smoke have inundated the streets for days, then retreated, then come again, before slowly dissipating -- and arising episodically once again. As well as this, enormous inflamed clouds have exploded around Vesuvius sending incandescent balls across the cityscape. The disruption is so severe that Naples citizens must choose from one of three terrible options:

1) to ignore the fires and smoke and hope not to be hit by a hot gas cloud,

2) to relocate somewhere entirely, or

3) to start living underground.

In Franken-Naples, these options are pursued in roughly equal proportions by the four million citizens.

As far as the third option goes, it should be noted that some sixty percent of Naples is built upon a huge subterranean system. This underground labyrinth comprises acres of caves and caverns and chambers and tunnels and passage-ways and vaults and safe-houses and crypts and catacombs and reservoirs and cisterns and waterways and sewers and subways and bomb-shelters. Some of it is natural, most of it is artificial. Naples subsurface rock – a soft sufo made of volcanic ash -- has made the city suitable for the construction of this vast subtropolis; slowly hewn and dug-out and mined over the city’s long history. 

It is within these subterranean caverns and passage-ways, amongst the decayed or forgotten remains of old Naples, that many citizens of Franken-Naples will escape to avoid the fuming toxic horror of the surface. Over the course of a few years, here in the underground, they develop a new troglodyte safety zone. Initially meant to be temporary, it ends up becoming a permanent home for many since it’s the only place for their skin and eyes and lungs to survive the unpredictable noxious clouds drifting over them.

Let’s be clear, though, the crisis of Franken-Naples is not volcanic. Yes, Vesuvius rumbles gently off into the distance once-in-a-while as it has done for millennia; sending the occasional snowflake of a plume high into the air. But the disaster wrought upon Franken-Naples is man-made. As the Camorra keep abandoning dangerous waste all around Naples’ countryside, and as the authorities also abandon their own civic and professional responsibilities, eventually some flammable component of the dump mixes with various toxic and radioactive components, and an ensuing inferno sweeps uncontrolled over the city in repeated terrifying monstrous onslaughts. In response, Naples’ citizens are continually driven to panic; running or crawling like the nearby ancients of Pompei into their tunnels and crypts until to terrified to emerge. 



Dr. Frankenstein stitched his monster together in the late 18th century whilst he was a medical student in the German city of Ingolstadt [5]. Since then, Ingolstadt has evolved to become a city with science and technology as its economic base (perhaps this is fitting, or perhaps it’s ironic, depending on whether Dr. Frankenstein is perceived as a ‘hero of science’ or just as an over-ambitious techno-weirdo).

The largest single industry in Ingolstadt is the Audi car company which has its slogan ‘Advance Through Technology’ emblazoned on its glamorous headquarters for all to see. Audi prides itself, much like Dr. Frankenstein did, on pushing the boundaries of technology. Audi was the first to use aluminum chassis and Audi also pushed forward the development of water-cooled engines.

Their most notable technological achievement in recent years, though, has been ‘cheat software’ used outrageously to run around various auto emissions laws. In 2015, when the emissions scandal broke, Audi admitted that over two million of its cars had been sold worldwide with the cheating software. Audi’s cars on the road then went on to spew nitrogen oxide into the air well beyond acceptable health limits. Their head of research was fired for his part in the scandal. Like a modern-day corporate Dr. Frankenstein, Audi’s technical guile trumped their ethical reflection [6].

Maybe, however, this comparison is unfair since Frankenstein’s monstrous invention killed but three or four people whilst Audi’s illegal software has been estimated by some to have killed thousands.

Surrounding Ingolstadt is a riverside forest and this is where Frankenstein’s abandoned monster made his way since all the townsfolk who came across him would either scream or faint or beat him with a stick or throw rocks at him. The monster had superhuman strength so therefore came to no harm from the sticks and stones but his emotions were so fraught and fragile that he chose to hideaway from Ingolstadt’s citizens in the forest.

Whilst living in the forest, we learn the monster is no dummy. From his clandestine observations of villagers in the forest --and without face-to-face interaction -- the monster quickly learns to talk and learns to read. He also learns to express his feelings in an eloquent manner. For instance, during a rare occasion of joy, he relates his delight for springtime in the forest [7]:

The birds sang in more cheerful notes, and the leaves began to bud forth on trees. Happy, happy Earth! Fit habitation for gods, which, so short a time before, was bleak, damp, and unwholesome. My spirits were elevated by the enchanting appearance of nature. The past was blotted from my memory, the present was tranquil, and the future gilded by bright rays of hope and anticipations of joy.

So, we see that monster is not entirely monstrous.

He even shows a kindness to humans, despite earlier maltreatment by them. In the dead of night, he collects firewood and harvests crops for one village family that he’s grown fond of -- laying the wood and the harvest secretly outside their door. The family knows not who helps them; maybe ‘forest angels’ they conjecture.

As a ‘forest angel’, the monster is briefly exalted above humanity and in celebration of this fleeting moment, we arrive at the following near-future scenario: Franken-Ingolstadt. Here, inspirited by the creatures of the forest, the engineers of the city take responsibility for the pollution of their lauded auto machines as they construct a bat-faced highway noise barrier (see figure two, below).

 Fig 2: Ingolstadt in the future -- by the Urban Futures team

-- As inspired by Frankenstein.

The bat-face noise barrier draws inspiration from monstrous-looking bats whose ornate facial organs -- adorned with multi-lobed ears and fluffy whiskers -- have been fashioned by evolution to disseminate and collect sound waves. In Franken-Ingolstadt, the bat-faces are scaled-up in size, sculpted into 3D relief, and then mounted on the inside of an earthen barrier. From the outside, amongst the surrounding forest and villages, the auto traffic is hardly audible. But on the inside the obnoxious rumbling noise is reflected straight back upon the traffic that produces it.

Incidentally, the company name Audi is taken from the Latin word that means "to listen" or "to hear" [8]. For those drivers who may regard the bat-faces as monstrous, they also serve as a symbolic visual reflection of the grotesque noise their cars cast out onto the environment. If Audi means ‘to Listen’, then the bat-faced noise barrier forces those who utilize these polluting machines to hear every decibel of their thundering noise pollution.



Like his creature, Dr. Frankenstein himself is emotionally fraught by his ill-judged experimentations and he’s temporarily driven into despair. Unable to work, or to go back to his private lab for fear of meeting the creature, Frankenstein takes refuge in a small Ingolstadt apartment with his best friend, a student named Henry Clerval.


After many months, when he begins to feel better, Frankenstein heads back home to his family in Geneva. Sometimes, when anxious thoughts flair-up, Dr. Frankenstein would saunter alone into the Swiss Alps nearby Geneva to calm himself. What he doesn’t know, though, is that the monster has followed Frankenstein to Geneva and he patiently watches Frankenstein’s every move from the hills and mountains nearby. 


In Shelley’s Frankenstein, the pivotal first dialogue between Dr. Frankenstein and his monster takes place atop a giant glacier in the Alps above Geneva. Here, in a landscape of timeless ice and precipitous crevices, the monster abruptly emerges to confront his creator with telling questions [9]: ‘Why did you create me?” “Am I human?” “Do I have soul?” “Whose brain do I have?”, “Whose body?” and, heart-wrenchingly: “Why did you abandon me?” Dr. Frankenstein stumbles through his words; an indictment of his utter lack of empathy, foresight and imagination.

 Fig 3: Geneva in the future -- by the Urban Futures team

-- As inspired by Frankenstein.

Alas, in the coming decades of global warming, and as depicted here in Franken-Geneva (see figure three), the glaciers of the Alps are set to decay and degrade year by year [10] until their icy scenes will be no more. It seems that anthropogenic climate change is doing something even more horrific than Dr. Frankenstein ever achieved: destroying the entire environment of the Alps. The alienation suffered by Frankenstein’s monster every time he came across a human – and which forced him to hideaway here for a time in the mountains -- is now being forced upon the entirety of the Alps, rendering it but an alien and monstrous version of itself. 




After his monster leaps out at him in the Alps, Dr. Frankenstein is escorted by the creature into an isolated mountain hut. Here, the Doctor is cajoled into sitting down for many hours--taking in the tales about the creature’s loneliness and abandonment and about how the creature’s despair is liable to spill-over into rage “in despicable and uncontrollable ways” [11].

To placate his creature, Dr. Frankenstein agrees to engineer more dead bodies into a ‘she-monster’ which would then serve as his single companion on Earth. The monster, in turn makes a promise to journey far away from ‘civilized society’ and to live alone with his she-monster in some isolated remote wilderness.

To concentrate on this new project, Dr. Frankenstein decides to migrate to far away from Geneva, choosing a faraway island north of the British mainland, where he might set to work unobserved and undisturbed. The monster, for his part, warns the doctor that he’ll be following him and watching him from a discreet distance.

And so Dr. Frankenstein begins a long expedition, heading up the river Rhine from Switzerland through Germany; a route which echoes the journeys that Mary Shelley took herself when she travelled through Europe with husband Percy.


When the Shelleys cruised through Darmstadt, they could spy the medieval Frankenstein Castle on the hill above the city. Literary historians postulate that this is where she got the name ‘Frankenstein’ from. Whether or not this is so, Gothic haunts like that of the Frankenstein castle appear again and again within the many 20th century movie versions of the Frankenstein story.


Nowadays, Darmstadt prides itself as the "City of Science"; notable especially for its large chemical industry. This association with -- and glamorization of -- science and industry shines through brightly into the near-future, as seen in figure four, when Franken-Darmstadt comes to life. Franken-Darmstadt’s creators boast that ‘we are not a city like others’ but instead ‘we are an industrialized ecosystem’.


In Franken-Darmstadt, all the industrial elements of the city are integrated into an intricate whole so that the waste that comes from one factory is used as a resource for another. In fact, Franken-Darmstadt has done this so very well that there are very few wasted materials. Each by-product, be it solid, liquid, or gas, is recycled by other factories over and over again using minimal energy and producing almost zero emissions. 


However, there’s nothing natural about it. And every person in Franken-Darmstadt seems to be a cog within a vast machine landscape. Here, the ecosystem is artificial; water, oxygen, carbon, silicon, methane, and ethane are all cycled and recycled with elegant energy efficiency and little garbage, but there’s nothing much alive down there save for a few human technicians.


 Fig. 4. Darmstadt in the future -- by the Urban Futures team --

As inspired by Frankenstein.

For industrialists, the idea of industrial ecology is attractive, since it pretends that our vast industrial civilization can be converted into an eco-friendly state if we just find technical solutions to the problem of recycling materials and energy.


However, the ‘ecosystem concept’ is a machine metaphor applied to natural settings, a vision of nature more loved by engineers than ecologists. So, if you start off with the idea that you want to turn the city into an ‘ecosystem’, what you’ll end up getting is not a living community but a machine community12.


Also, some products cannot be made without producing waste materials that are so toxic that can never be used by another industrial process. Chemical products, which are a mainstay of the Franken-Darmstadt economy, may very well belong to this category.





In the novel, Dr. Frankenstein is in no hurry to embark upon his new she-monster project as he had promised, so when he stops off in London after crossing the English Channel he spends some days with his friend Henry Clerval to take in the sights of the British Capital. 


If Dr. Frankenstein were to tour the London of the near-future, the pictured in figure five depicts what he might see. London has gone ‘Steampunk’; celebrating the aesthetics of 19th Century Britain (when Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was published and became popular).


 Fig. 5. London in the future -- by the Urban Futures team --

As inspired by Frankenstein.


‘Steampunk’ is a sci-fi style that fetishizes the steam era, mixing it with various 19th century aesthetics, as it revives and reenacts the technology of steam in both folky arts and crafts and at raucous fan parties. As an openly anachronist genre, Steampunk fans imagine a universe in which the steam engine is still nowadays the major form of energy and transport [13].


Since Steampunk relies on an Earth-destroying fuel, that is coal, it seems rather anti-environmental. However, Steampunk fans often point out that they are trying to demystify technology by gaining control of a type of machine that can be materially-handled and manipulated by any suitably enthusiastic non-expert.


Steampunk devotees see themselves as romantically reacting against the unseen algorithms churning away silently in globally connected computers controlled by multinational corporations and surveilled by national security agencies. In a pushback against 21st century technology, Steampunk valorizes the physical, the tangible, the visible, and the audible machines of the olden days. And, of course, Steampunk fans like their machines billowing with steam.


The ‘Age of Steam’ is usually associated with the Victorian era but it had its formative period a little earlier [14], about the same time Mary Shelley was a teen. In the 1810s, William Trevithick built the first steam locomotive for both road and rail. And the first steam ship, the SS Savannah crossed the Atlantic and arrived in Liverpool from Savannah, Georgia, in 1814. Soon after, a plethora of factories around the world adopted steam machines in their production processes, including steam-driven printing. By this method, a five-fold increase in production helped make the novel a widely-available and wildly popular genre. Though it is often regarded as a romantic backlash against industrialism, Frankenstein may owe its success to industrial-scale publishing.


Looking back, the social repercussions of the burgeoning industrialism of the early 19th Century are nowhere near as glamorous as Steampunk fans might like to imagine15. The industrial revolution is remarkable for producing smoky slum-filled cities across the British landscape, for British imperial conquests and British imperial war machines rampaging across the globe, and for new social stratifications emerging based upon heritage and capital (instead of just the former).


Despite these enormous social divisions, British conservatives these days usually look back fondly on the 19th century as a period of great national power and prestige as well as industrial innovation. In Franken-London these nostalgic sentiments boil-over and mesh with the aesthetics of Steampunk so that the London’s conservative authorities turn the city into a giant lavish Steampunk theme park.


Because Britain’s coalmines were just about all closed-down in the 1980s, this Franken-London of the near future overflows with faux steam engines that puff around not with coal as a fuel but with imported diesel. These ‘monuments to the machine’ wheel all throughout London; ferrying tourists and commuters to and fro, and feeding a nationalist nostalgia for ‘Great Britain’.


Probably, also, the steam machines will be charged with the job to mow down environmental protesters and the trees they are hugging.





Oxford is a famous university town north from London along the river Thames. In 1811, Percy Bysshe Shelley, got kicked out of the university for distributing atheist pamphlets around campus. This meant he had to pursue his studies privately and ended being an intellectual apprentice to the famous political theorist William Godwin. This is how Percy came to meet Mary, since William Godwin was her father.


When Mary wrote about Dr. Frankenstein visiting Oxford it is with admiring and expressive tones for the "ancient and picturesque" college buildings and their "lovely riverine environs”. Two hundred years later, neither Shelley nor Dr. Frankenstein might be so romantic about the city for now it is daily swamped with traffic jams and overcrowded with hordes of tourists.


A dozen miles to the south, in the Oxfordshire countryside, there is the massive Harwell Science Park. Little known to the residents of Oxford, there is within this Park a gigantic store of leftover radioactive waste; a legacy of Britain’s first nuclear weapons and nuclear energy projects of the 1950s16. One of the facilities of the Park is the ISIS particle accelerator; a smaller version of the famous Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. The Large Hadron Collider attracted concern since it was feared by some as liable to create a Black Hole into which the whole world might be sucked. In Britain, some are also anxious about the particle accelerator near Oxford – but this is because it sucks up so much money.


Fig. 6. Oxford in the Future -- As Inspired by Frankenstein


In the near-future, the Science Park feels obliged to save money as austerity continues to be enforced on the nation by the conservative government.  They do this not by sacking scientists but by getting rid of the fire station at the Park. The result is rather predictable—eventually a small fire breaks out which escalates quickly and, within a few hours, just about all the Park’s buildings are in flames, including the nuclear waste storehouse. The waste is incinerated and the radioactive smoke and ashes blows in the wind to envelop the city of Oxford.


As shown in figure six, Franken-Oxford is the result, a city so doused with radiation that its two hundred thousand residents have had to be evacuated. For the people of Oxford, the world might as well have fallen into a Black Hole.  





After Percy Bysshe Shelley had been expelled from Oxford University, he embarked upon a literary pilgrimage around Britain. One place he ended landed upon was Keswick, Cumbria. Keswick is a small town in the Lake District; associated with famous romantic poets, such as William Wordsworth, Samuel Coleridge, and Robert Southey, known for their rapturous texts celebrating the lakes and highlands of Cumbria – all so far removed from the industrial revolution overtaking the rest of England [17].


In Keswick, Percy started a friendship with Southey, another poet ejected from his university for radical views. It was Southey who pushed Shelley to become a student of William Godwin, Mary’s father, in order that Percy might continue an education beyond the circles of a university.


Fig 7. Keswick in the Future -- by the Urban Futures team

-- As Inspired by Frankenstein

In the Shelley’s time Keswick might be called idyllic. And nowadays, too, it is a pleasant little town. However, a monstrous specter looms over near-future Keswick; and it has the same character as Oxford’s monster for it is nuclear in nature.


Just twenty miles west of Keswick is Europe’s largest nuclear plant, Sellafield. Every now and again, news reports come out blearing aloud that a bunch of cancer clusters are forming in the villages around Sellafield. The plant is no stranger to accidents and incidents of all scales, whereby indeterminate amounts of radioactive leakage has been recorded spilling-out of broken pipes and tanks or just being purposefully discharged into the local waters [18].


The Sellafield operators admit to the problems but declare it impossible to close-down the plant since, although Sellafield produces no electricity, the plutonium and uranium stored there has to be taken care of night and day and cannot be disposed of elsewhere. In fact cans of radioactive waste used to be dumped off in the Irish Sea nearby but new laws now prohibit this.


Since Sellafield is a major employer in Cumbria, many families rely upon it for their income. Many nuclear professionals are also heavily invested in it and use all manner of science and statistics to proffer it as ‘safe enough’.


The cancer clusters adversely affect children most of all and the upshot is community-wide family psycho-dramas not unlike that Dr. Frankenstein and his ‘son’. The parents and guardians of the kids of Cumbria, most especially the mums, have had to constantly weigh-up the benefits and risks of living near the scary Sellafield monster.


By the time of Franken-Keswick (see figure seven above), many mothers come to the conclusion that Cumbria and the Lake District, as peaceful and serene as they may seem, simply are not safe for children. The fathers, though, are loath to give up their high-paying nuclear jobs and stubbornly refuse to leave. They are also confident that their technologies and engineering skills can mend the broken pipes and leaky tanks.


However, even if the mother’s trust the fathers, they do not trust the nuclear company at all, nor do they believe the British government will be bothered funding the support of the plant to ensure full safety. In this way, families are broken apart and children taken away to live in safer places. Franken-Keswick is thus a town without the noise and smiley faces of youngsters. Only stubborn older folks, and the technicians of Sellafield, dare to stick around the area that may or may not soon be doused with an invisible and terrifying pollutant.




After a protracted journey north through the British Isles, Dr. Frankenstein finally finds a good spot to begin his ‘she-monster’ project. He’s come to the faraway Orkney Islands off the northern coast of Scotland. Here, Dr. Frankenstein digs up dead bodies and then busies himself in an empty cottage that serves as his laboratory.

However, when Dr. Frankenstein reaches the final stages of the process, just moments before he gives his new patched-together she-creature the spark of life, the monster forces a dramatic entrance into his remote laboratory—so keen was it to inspect his future companion.

At this moment, though, the doctor is overtaken by one of his moody outbursts. And as he spies the monster awaiting with anticipation in the doorway, lit from behind by lightning bursts, Dr. Frankenstein contemplates how terrible a future he could be unleashing upon humanity. Could his male monster and his female monster go on together to produce lots of little baby monsters that would then terrorize the world? As fear and apprehension wind through him, Dr. Frankenstein hacks the body of the she-creature to bits with a cleaver. The monster wails in agony in the doorway; shrieking a vow to seek revenge in the cruelest way possible.

Within a few days, the monster murders Viktor’s friend, Henry Clerval, framing Dr. Frankenstein for the crime. Frankenstein spends months in a dark dirty jail cell in the northern Isles of Britain in a state of near madness before being released for lack of evidence.

With this geographical link between Frankenstein and the Orkneys in mind, we move towards Franken-Stromness, a port town in the Orkneys, as it will appear in the near-future. Nowadays, Stromness has a charming rustic character with buildings made of local stone and streetways adorned with authentic 19th century maritime artifacts.

The few thousand Orcadians who inhabit the town nowadays earn a living either through tourism, through fishing, through the sheep industry, or – increasingly -- through various wind energy and wave energy projects.

Despite being perched on the exposed shores of the Atlantic and with an abundance of fresh oceanic wind, the climate of Stromness is actually mild. It never gets much above 20 degrees centigrade in the summer or much below 5 degrees centigrade in the winter. Visitors to the Orkneys are sometimes frustrated by the changeable daily weather but the climate, taken together, tends to stay within a predictable long-term pattern [19].

All this is about to change; Franken-Stromness is a stormy place (see figure eight). Under the influence of global climate change, and as the Atlantic airs and seas are warmed, the atmospheric and oceanic energy grows and grows. This excess energy can only dissipate via ever-increasing numbers of storms. The storms originate as tropical hurricanes in the mid-Atlantic and usually peter-out as they travel northwards upon the gulf stream all the way to the British Isles. In the future though, more storms will make it all the way to Britain with high speed winds [20].

Before long, Stromness has entered a perma-storm climate whence the site of blue sky is confined to yesteryear, and winds and rains ravage the town incessantly. These ever-present storms are also much wetter and rainier than those of the past since the hotter Atlantic air takes-up and releases much more moisture. Your umbrella, or any kind of rain canopy, is useless in this weather -- they’ll just be torn apart by the winds.

Fig. 8. Stromness in the future -- by the Urban Futures team

-- As inspired by Frankenstein

As storm after storm hits the Orkneys, its coastal seas become too violent to run fishing boats. The islands also become too rough and scary for tourist ferries. Even the wind turbines and wave-power machines are ripped from their bases and tossed around like broken ornaments on the land and in the ocean. Probably, as well, transport to and from the island will be made nigh-on impossible, as the sea plays havoc with boats and docks, whilst aircraft dare not take off or land.

Humans are not the only ones to suffer. The sheep find it hard going to survive the weather-battered landscape as well. Soon, the once fertile soil will be eroded away by rainstorms and the nourishing fields of native grass become rarer and rarer until they are scoured from the Islands entirely. The once great seabird colonies of the Orkneys are also decimated as the ecological regime of the sea is altered. Many seabirds starve to death since the fish they feed upon are themselves starved of disappearing plankton.

Where, nowadays, Stromness stands as a vibrant center of activity on the Orkneys, soon it will be alienated from the rest of Scotland and the rest of world. Then, the isolated Orkeney Islanders must eek out a dark and stormy existence all alone and abandoned.




After his horrendous experiences on the British Isles, Dr. Frankenstein is intent to get back home to Geneva. To do so he travels through Paris. In Frankenstein’s time, as Shelley writes, Paris is a tumultuous place, recovering from an extended revolution, from the Napoleonic Wars, and with an uncertain political future [21]. The same might be said about Paris in the present era of war and terrorism, labor unrest, mass refugee migration, plus pandemics and global climate change.

But, as in the past, and so today, Paris seeks to rise above tumult whilst still enveloped within it.

In the not-distant-future, after decades of research and development, the French space agency have built a space base in orbit and then un-reel an elevator cable from it -- which comes all the way down to the surface of the Earth. The cable is 80 miles in length, made of nano-carbon, and descends from orbital space to contact with the Earth at France’s national space center in French Guyana (in South America).

Before long, the first elevator car starts running up and down the cable, ferrying both people and machines to and from orbit. The project is reported the world over as being ‘an engineering marvel’. As a financial enterprise, though, it is a complete failure. The cost of transporting a person or a piece of space equipment firstly to French Guyana, and then up into Outer Space on a nano-carbon cable, ends up being even more than the cost of using a normal rocket. The French public, who financed the whole project via their taxes, are also aggrieved that such a marvelous French invention is not even available in their own country to gaze upon. The American public has their Cape Kennedy. The Russian people have their Vostochny cosmodrome. But French citizens must traverse across the Atlantic Ocean to South America before they can view the adventures going on at their national spaceport.

So, to increase the commercial viability of the project and to appease the French taxpayers, the space elevator is moved. Over the course of many months, the base station at the bottom-end of the cable is loaded on to a massive boat, and floated ever-so-slowly toward La Havre on the French coast, and then up the River Seine to Paris. When it finally gets there, the French will at last be able to rejoice in its splendor (even though very very few of them will be able to pay for a ticket to ride upon it).


Fig. 9. Paris in the future -- As inspired by Frankenstein

However, late in something goes dramatically wrong (see figure nine). Either because of a design fault or due to some accident, the entire space elevator starts to vibrate and shudder, before falling spectacularly down in a horrific mess of impacts to the Earth’s surface all over the city. Thusly, technology has over-reached once more and a monstrous Franken-Paris is born.




Eventually Dr. Frankenstein manages to get back to Geneva. He strives to wipe the whole monster affair out of his mind by withdrawing to the protection of his family. He also organizes to wed his childhood sweetheart and head off on a honeymoon near Lake Como in the Italian Alps.

However, on his honeymoon, he’s told by locals that the monster has been seen lurking around the neighborhood. Frankenstein goes out to challenge him but he cannot find the creature. When he returns to the honeymoon suite—his new wife lies strangled to death in the wedding bed.

Como nowadays is a city of 90,000 people located on the scenic shores of the Lake of the same name. It’s a very old city. Around the 1st Century BC it became subject to rule by Rome. At the time, the town center was situated on nearby hills but it was moved to its current location by order of Julius Caesar who had the swamp near the south end of the lake drained before ordering the construction of a walled city in typical Roman grid pattern [22].


Caesar’s city walls are now mere ruins but the town of Como is quite a delight -- nestled in between a lake and the mountains.


Como in the Future

Fig. 10. Como in the Future - As inspired by Frankenstein


However, this splendor belies the toxic nature of the lake water. Although a clear azure blue in tone, Lake Como is actually an unhealthy microbe-infested danger zone; the water unsafe for drinking or swimming. This sad state of affairs is the result of unregulated housing developments, especially those of the rich and wealthy wanting to show off with lavish lakeside houses [23]. These luxury domestic residences pump their untreated sewerage straight into the lake. Again and again, unwary swimmers are afflicted with all manner of diseases as they emerge from the lake; covered in rashes, their eyes and mouths stinging and swollen, and their bellies engorged with deadly pathogens. Despite ghastly photos of these victims appearing in the press, Franken-Como becomes the ongoing reality of life for this lakeside town.




After he finds his new wife laying murdered in their honeymoon suite on the shores of Lake Como, Dr. Frankenstein becomes overpowered by grief and ravaged by anger. He ends up on a protracted quest for restitution and righteousness—believing that he must exterminate the monster not only for the good of his family but for the entire civilized world. With just about all his loved ones murdered by his monster, Dr. Frankenstein seeks to pursue it from Lake Como back to Lake Geneva and then along down the river Rhone from Switzerland into southern France. One of the cities that both pass through is Arles.


Arles is a city with Roman roots built upon a spot of raised dry land at the point where the Rhone forks into two parts as it flows from the Alps to the Mediterranean Sea. In between these two branches is Europe’s largest wetlands, the Camargue. In the Frankenstein novel, the river Rhone is the route taken by Frankenstein’s creature, and then by Dr. Frankenstein, himself, as they raced away from the scene of his wife’s murder. Shelley herself had travelled along the river on her way from Switzerland to Italy more than once.


In Shelley’s time, the Rhone and the Camargue were pristine natural areas — yet to be sullied by the smokestacks and pollution of industrialized France. Here in Franken-Arles, the impacts of industrialization have worked together to create an unhealthy city in an unhealthy landscape. Dead birds and dead fish wash upon the shores of a river contaminated with oil residues, agricultural chemicals, and radioactive metals.


Arles is well-known these days as the city where Vincent van Gogh drew many of his most famous paintings. In a crazy-active few years he churned out more than 300 paintings here. But his creative output was shadowed by a strained psyche. One evening, he mutilated himself by cutting off an ear and presenting it to his prostitute girlfriend. It was a prescient warning since his physical and mental health deteriorated within a year so much that he took a pistol to himself and committed suicide [24].


Fig. 11. Arles in the future -- by the Urban Futures team

-- As inspired by Frankenstein


Alas, Franken-Arles is bound for the same fate as van Gogh (see figure eleven). After eating the fish and drinking the water, great numbers of its Arles’ citizens end up either depressed or psychotic as the pollution disrupts their metabolism in unpredictable ways. Some feel the need to inspirit themselves by enjoying the natural beauty of the Camargue, but all they see there are the remains of poisoned and degraded flora and fauna.  



In Mary Shelley’s time, the Aral Sea was the fourth-largest lake in the world. Since Soviet times, though, it has been dwindling in size due to the overdrawing of water from the rivers feeding into it. This water has mostly been used to irrigate the huge cotton farms of both Russia and Kazakhstan.

The Aral Sea has shrunk so much during the past fifty years that it has become a series of near lifeless, polluted, slithery lakes25. In the 1950s and 1960s, Aralsk was a major seaport and fishing town. Now it is stranded some twenty miles from the Aral Sea and the dried-up lake is dotted with rusting ships. Meanwhile, the new land that has emerged from the receding lake has been renamed Aralkum, the Aral Desert.


Fig. 12. Aralsk in the Future -- As inspired by Frankenstein


Every now and again, a violent dust storm whips up the sands of the Aralkum, blowing them westward across Europe. As if this is not bad enough, the sand is laced with leftover chemicals from decayed pesticides. As the Aral Sea receded, Aralsk’s economy was destroyed, and now the remaining residents must carve out a precarious existence however they can from their new desert. A small ecotourism industry has sprung up as people from around the world travel to the town to gaze upon one of the world’s greatest eco-tragedies and to view the Aralsk’s haunting ship graveyard. Many local people still dream that, one day, the Aral’s rivers will flow once again and the lake will grow to be alive once more but this may be a forlorn hope.


Saint Petersburg is the city where the Frankenstein novel actually begins. From here a British maritime explorer named Captain Watson is organizing a sojourn north to the port of Arkhangelsk before heading out into the ice-floes of the Arctic Ocean and then onwards to be the first voyager to the North Pole. Little does he know that he will run into Dr. Frankenstein in the ice -- and be the person to recount the Doctors story to the world.

For our story, St. Petersburg of the near future (see figure thirteen below) becomes a Frankencity through an outbreak of sinkholes. A growing phenomenon for all northern Russian cities is the premature melting of the seasonal permafrost and the changing of underwater courses. As frozen soil and clay melts for longer periods, it becomes more fragile and easily broken-up; thusly rapidly creating cavernous holes just below the surface. Some of the sinkholes are huge; swallowing not only fields and cars but entire farms and town blocks [26].

Fig. 13. St. Petersburg in the Future -- by the Urban Futures team

-- As inspired by Frankenstein


Another issue associated with the thawing permafrost is the reemergence of the ‘Arctic Plague’, what Russians call anthrax [27]. As the once-frozen surface of the northern permafrost is warmed up to become soggy, the carcasses of long-dead reindeers re-emerge to spew anthrax spores onto unsuspecting locals. In recent years, hundreds of reindeer-herders have been hospitalized and many thousands of their reindeer have had to be culled and burned.

This problem is only going to get worse as increasing numbers burial sites, both human and animal, and some dating back to the middle ages, are unearthed from the permafrost by rising temperatures which melt frozen soil, loosen rocks and stones, and thaw dead bodies. These bodies may have microbial spores hiding within them from previous epidemics; from one of the many 19th Century Small Pox outbursts, maybe. Or if the bodies date from earlier periods, they could hold the spores of medieval plagues. If Franken-Petersburg manages to survive the sinkholes be stricken by a new Arctic Plague that sweeps down from the nearby Arctic lands and through the city to kill tens of thousands of its residents.



North of St. Petersburg, nearer the Arctic Circle, is the town of Arkhangelsk and here in the near future the sinkholes have become so bad that the earth tumbles and falls around the city to leave giant ravines all around. Russian gas companies and mining companies exacerbate the problem as they move in on the unstable land to dangerously excavate and drill for resources.

Fig. 14. Archangelsk in the future -- As inspired by Frankenstein


As frightening and precarious as Franken-Archangelsk looks (see figure fourteen), the melting permafrost portends an even more horrific scenario. As the permafrost thaws, great loads of methane are released. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas and because the Russian permafrost is so expansive – one of the largest terrestrial ecosystems on the planet -- we might be knocking on the door of a ‘Methane Death Spiral’. If this door is opened, the melted permafrost will release more methane into the atmosphere which heats up the Arctic even more which melts even more permafrost, and so on and so on. Within a few decades, an abrupt global climate change could overwhelm the Earth; whence a five degree temperature spike raises sea levels by some five meters. Cities will be decimated. Agriculture will collapse. Many species will become extinct [28]. Would we be one of them?

Most climate change experts, though, opine that this worst-case scenario of ‘abrupt climate change’ will actually be stretched out over the next two hundred years rather than over the next two decades. But, like Dr. Frankenstein, perhaps their imagination and foresight is failing them.

Archangelsk in Shelley’s time was called the ‘Capital of the Arctic’. Countless polar prospectors, traders, hunters, and adventurers set off from here into the frigid Arctic Ocean—as would Captain Watson, Frankenstein’s monster and, soon-after, Frankenstein himself.

For much of the year, Arkhangelsk traditionally becomes a physical part of the Arctic ice sheet and it is hard to see where the city ends and the icy ocean begins. This ice cover forces the port to remain closed for many months every year. However, as a result of climate change, the ever-warming Arctic Ocean laps at the ice so that the port of Arkhangelsk will likely soon stay open all year round every succeeding year into the future.

In Frankenstein, Mary Shelley has the final confrontation between Dr. Frankenstein and his creature take place on ice floes north of Arkhangelsk.  Frankenstein walks and skids and skis and slips across the ice, toiling for hundreds of miles. Just as he spots a blurry figure off into the distance, Frankenstein collapses from exhaustion.

The monster then turns around to recover Dr. Frankenstein before he freezes to death, an act that signifies his conflicted feelings for his ‘father’. Just then, from his ice-encrusted ship, Captain Watson spots the pair of them. The monster flees as Captain Watson takes Dr. Frankenstein onboard for recuperation.

At this spot, where the British explorers were stuck fast in ice-covered seas north of Arkhangelsk, it’s likely that the ice will soon forever melt away. It’s also possible that in the decades to come, the Arctic ice all the way to the North Pole will have disappeared.

Anyway, after telling his tale about the monster to Captain Watson, Dr. Frankenstein succumbs to exposure and dies. Yet the Captain is so moved by his story that he gazes northwards to the pole for a for a few moments before turning the ship around; heading away from the ice floes and back to the Arkhangelsk.

Shelley hints that the creature dies in the Arctic as well, throwing himself into the sea to drown in a desperate attempt to escape his own loneliness. Yet the lines depicting his demise are ambiguous. Maybe he just walked off northwards to live on the ice at the North Pole all alone, with the unprejudiced ice-scape to keep him company. I’m sure, the coldest and most callous of scientists would wish the creature a peaceful life there all alone.   

Despite his best efforts, Dr. Frankenstein never managed to slay his monster. However, two hundred years later, after two centuries of ‘technological progress’ and two centuries of ‘social progressiveness’, we, the smarter kinder people of 21st century, are set to slay Frankenstein’s creature by melting away his last final refuge. What monsters have we become?



1. As explained in: S. Bann (1997) Frankenstein: Creation and Monstrosity, Reaktion Books; J. Turney (1998) Frankenstein’s Footsteps: Science, Genetics and Popular Culture, Yale University Press; D.F.Glut (2002) R. Montillo and S.T. Hitchcock, (2007) Frankenstein: A Cultural History, The Frankenstein Archive: Essays on the Monster, the Myth, the Movies, and More, McFarland and Co; N. Michaud, ed (2013) Frankenstein: The Shocking Truth, Open Court; S. Denson (2014) Post-naturalism: Frankenstein, Film, and the Anthropotechnical Interface, Transcript-Verlag; and D. Horton (2014) Frankenstein: Cultographies, Wallflower Press; and and L.D. Friedmann, and A.B. Kavey (2016) Monstrous Progeny: A History of Frankenstein Narratives, Rutgers University Press.


2.  As documented by: N. Bertram (1973) Daughter of Earth and Water: A Biography of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Morrow; D. Hay (2011) Young Romantics: The Shelleys, Byron, and Other Tangled Lives, Giroux; M. Seymour (2002) Mary Shelley, Grove Press; B. Johnson (2014) A Life with Mary Shelley, Stanford University Press; and C. Gordon (2016) Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wolstonecraft and Mary Shelley, Random.


3. As reported by: D.R. Liddick (2011) Crimes Against Nature: Illegal Industries and the Global Environment, Praeger; R. Walters (2013) Eco Mafia and Environmental Crime, in K Carrington et al, eds, Crime, Justice and Social Democracy, Palgrave, pp281-294; C. Livesay (2015) Europe's Biggest Illegal Dump — ‘Italy’s Chernobyl’ — Uncovered in Mafia Heartland, Vice News, June 20th issue; W. Mayr (2014) Italy's Growing Toxic Waste Scandal, Spiegal Online, Jan 16th issue; and J. Yardley (2014) A Mafia Legacy Taints the Earth in Southern Italy, NY Times online, Jan 30th issue.


4. As the following publications point out: J. Lancaster (2009) In the Shadow of Vesuvius: A Cultural History of Naples, Taurus Parke; and T. Astarita (2013) The Companion to Early Modern Naples, Brill. For explorations of Vesuvius’ history and geology, see: A. Scarth (2009) Vesuvius: A Biography, Princeton University Press; and C. Guerra (2015) If You Don’t Have a Good Laboratory, Find a Good Volcano: Mount Vesuvius as a Natural Chemical Laboratory in Eighteenth-Century Italy, AMBIX, Vol. 62 No. 3, August 2015, 245–265.


5. Incidentally, Mary Shelley writes of Viktor Frankenstein at this time as being a medical student/medical experimentalist. He wasn’t awarded his doctorate and given the title ‘Dr. Frankenstein’ until the film versions of the Frankenstein story came to prominence in the 20th century. However, for our purposes, the title ‘Doctor’ is useful in conveying the respect Frankenstein was given by his peers in Ingolstadt whilst helping us to de-couple the name of the creature and the name of its creator. As well as this, we should note that in Shelley’s Frankenstein, the creator never gave his creature a proper name.


6. As reported by, for eg,: S.R.H. Barrett et al. (2015) Impact of the Volkswagen emissions control defeat device on US public health. Environmental Research Letters Volume 10, Issue 11; W. Boston et al (2015) Audi Engines Implicated in Volkswagen Emissions Scandal, The Wall Street Journal, November 27th, 2015; S, Tomlinsin (2015) Audi Says 2.1 Million Cars are Fitted With Cheat Devices, Mail Online: September 25th issue; and H. Tuttle (2015) Volkswagen Rocked by Emissions Fraud Scandal, Risk Management, Vol 62, issue 10, pp4-7.


7. M. Shelley (1818) Frankenstein, Lackington, Chapt. 10.


8. See: Audi (2013) Four Rings: The Audi Story, Delius Klasing Verlag.


9. M. Shelley (1818) Frankenstein, Lackington, Chapt. 12.


10. See, for example: U. Lemmin and A. Amouroux (2012) The Influence of Climate Change on Lake Geneva, in Climatic Change and Global Warming of Inland Waters: Impacts and Mitigation for Ecosystems and Societies John Wiley & Sons; and OCCR et al (2014) CH2014-Impacts: Toward Quantitative Scenarios of Climate Change Impacts in Switzerland, OCCR.


11. M. Shelley (1818) Frankenstein, Lackington, Chapt. 12


12. As explained in A. Marshall (2002) The Unity of Nature, Imperial College Press.


13. For explorations into the sub-culture and philosophy of Steampunk, see: the 2010 Special Steampunk Issue of Neo-Victorian Studies: (Vol 3.Issue 1). 


14. See, for eg, T. Crump (2007)  A Brief History of the Age of Steam: From the First Engine to the Boats and Railways, Running Press.


15. See, for eg, P.N. Stearns (2012) The Industrial Revolution in World History, Westview Press; and R.C.Allen (2017) The Industrial Revolution, Oxford University Press.


16. N. Hance (2006) Harwell: the Enigma Revealed, Enhance Publishing.


17. See, for eg: G.D Smith (2010) The Lake Poets, Amberly Publishing; and T. de Quincey (2014) Recollections of the Lakes and the Lake Poets, Cambridge Library Collection.


18. See for eg: Davies, H. (2012) Sellafield Stories, Constable and Robinson; H. Bolter (1996) Inside Sellafield, Quartet Books. For more examinations For explications of the monstrous nature of the nuclear industry, see the following works: A. Marshall (2006) Dangerous Dawn: The New Nuclear Age, Friends of the Earth Beyond Nuclear Initiative; K. Schrader-Frechette (2012) What Will Work: Fighting Climate Change with Renewable Energy, Not Nuclear Power, Oxford University Press; and K. Brown (2015) Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters, Oxford University Press.


19. According to: A. Dawson (2013) So Foul and Fair a Day: A History of Scotland's Weather and Climate, Birlinn Ltd.


20. See: J. Hansen, (2010) Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity, Bloomsbury USA; H. Cullen (2011) The Weather of the Future, Harper Perennial; and A. Sobel (2014) Storm Surge: Hurricane Sandy, Our Changing Climate, and Extreme Weather of the Past and Future, Harper Wave.


21. See: A. Horne (2004) Seven Ages of Paris, Vintage; and J. deJean (2015) How Paris Became Paris, Bloomsbury.


22. E. Masestti, (2015) Lake Como, Italian Itineraries.


23. E. Courtenay (2007) Clooney’s Italian Lake Has Eco-Blues, Treehugger, August 1st 2007


24. As retold in: M. Bailey (2016) Uncovering Van Gogh’s infamous Days in Arles, Apollo: The International Art Magazine, 17th December issue.


25. See: W.W. Breckle, et al, eds, (2011) Aralkum: A Manmade Desert, Springer.


26. See for eg: M. Tennberg, ed, (2012) Governing the Uncertain: Adaptation and Climate in Russia and Finland, Springer; and R.W. Orttung (2016) Sustaining Russia’s Arctic Cities, Berghahn; E. Larsen and H. Lindenberger (2016) On Thin Ice: An Epic Final Quest into the Melting Arctic, Falcon Guides;


27. See, for instance: B.S. Levy and J.A. Patz (2015) Climate Change and Public Health, Oxford University Press; A. Luhn (2016) Anthrax Outbreak Triggered by Global Warming Kills Boy in Arctic Circle, The Guardian Online, Aug 1st issue; and T. Nilson (2016) Yamal Anthrax Could Be Just the Beginning, The Independent Barants Observer, Aug 7th issue.


28. As predicted by such scientists as: CCRC (2002) Abrupt Climate Change: Inevitable Surprises. Committee on Abrupt Climate Change, Ocean Studies Board, Polar Research Board, Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate, Division on Earth and Life Studies, National Research Council. National Academy Press: Washington, D.C.; D. Cox (2005) Climate Crash: Abrupt Climate Change and What it Means for Our Future, Joseph Henry Press; and R. Alley (2014) The Two-Mile Time Machine: Ice Cores, Abrupt Climate Change, and Our Future, Princeton University Press.


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