Wednesday, July 10, 1996
Vol. 88, No. 105, p. 3B


Read about an 81-year-old inventor who lives in Venus (Florida, that is). His house looks like a spaceship, and his Venus Project is a model city built in dazzling detail.

Thursday, July 11, 1996
Vol. 88, No. 106, p. 1D, 6D


by Ron Wiggins

Want a gander at the future?

Want one futurist's best guess at the look of tomorrow's cities, how we'll get around, what kind of houses we'll inhabit, and how we'll work, learn, play, consume and travel?

Preview: Flying saucer helicopters, jetports with extinguishers built into the runways, magnetically levitated trains traveling through vacuum tunnels at space-travel speeds, cities designed concentrically, each harvesting its own solar and wind energy and with "cybernation" - linked computers - replacing government and money.

Jacque Fresco, 80, has it all doped out and has built the City of Tomorrow on a 10-foot circular table and plunked it down in his design studio smack in the middle of a hammock in Venus, Fla., 70 miles northwest of Palm Beach County.

Why the future, Jacque?

"I've always found the present unacceptable," he says, smiling gently beneath the snap brim of his fedora. Indiana Einstein.

Fresco is a self-educated industrial designer who received national attention in 1946 for prefabricated aluminum housing he designed. Today he shuttles between seven domed concrete and steel buildings he created on his 25 acres. The buildings, including the house he shares with his associate and model builder, Roxanne Meadows, look like modernistic igloos. Frank Lloyd Nanook.

So here's Fresco, a futurist living in a swamp with his companion of 20 years, with this groovy, exquisitely crafted city that you could move into tomorrow if you were an insect, and all for what purpose?

"My purpose," he says soaringly, "is to raise human consciousness to the highest possible level of individuality and creativity – to give all people the opportunity to grow, not just materialistically, but in an environment to nourish and bring out the best qualities of all human beings."

What's it going to take to do this, Jacque?

"I've been looking for a man with a big cigar," he answers cryptically.

By that he means a money man. A man of vision and influence to bankroll a theme park version of Fresco's Venus Project. Build a theme park and they will come. Profits to be rolled into the real Venus Project, a city of the future for others to emulate.


"I don't believe in Utopia," says Fresco. "We'd try some of my ideas, if they worked, fine. If not, change them. I believe in that which is verifiable. The city would never be finished. People will always find a better way to do things."

Imagine no banks, money Fresco's fear is that the onslaught of automation will wipe out so many jobs that social unrest and crime will lead to a dictator state, and there goes your unfettered creativity. Fresco's imagination vaults into the light fantastic with his belief we can get along without money, banks and politicians. All possible, he insists, when cybernation churns out goods, grows our food and cleans our environment.

"We will have a resource-based economy," he says.

Say what? According to Fresco, cybernation - the mating of advanced computer systems to production - can give us a pair of jeans or a car on demand. If the raw materials are there, you push a button and the factory whips up what you asked for.

Money? Nobody does any work. You don't need money. Don't worry about the machines breaking down - they can be designed to repair themselves. Yes, somewhere along the way, we're going to need some hellacious computer programmers, but people are smart enough to design them now, Fresco believes. Fresco is quick to concede that a pure cashless society may be generations away, but during the transition he would build his model cities with lending centers of consumer goods. Want to ski? Borrow the skis. Why buy a bike or a camera or a telescope when you can check them out?

"All you'd have to do is bring them back in good shape, and there's no charge."

Meadows, who constructs models for architects and developers, began her relationship with Fresco after attending a lecture and liking his ideas in 1976. She quit her job as a cruise ship portrait artist and rented a room in Fresco's house in Miami, where she became his fine arts student.

"He has hundreds of ideas," Meadows said, "but he is not a businessman, and he is not good with money. He can make the Venus Project (theme park) happen, but he really needs others with expertise in marketing."

"If you have ideas that are ... different," she added, "sometimes it's hard to be heard."

Unable to build prototype at the time they linked up, Fresco was designing boat hulls and gaining a following among South Florida futurists through his lectures and appearances on radio and television shows. By 1978, he had started the Social Cyberneering Society with 250 members.

A small group of admirers followed him to Naples where they bought 40 acres in hopes of founding a prototype city. Zoning problems stopped the project cold and the group dissolved.

Fresco and Meadows refused to surrender the dream. With the proceeds of the sale of his house in Miami in 1979, they bought a former tomato farm near Venus and started building on weekends. That's when Fresco constructed his model city, a refined version of a city he designed in the 1930s.

Although Fresco gives only a few lectures a year to civic groups and futurists, word of mouth and a Venus Project book and video annually draw hundreds of visitors. "It gets to the point where we can't get anything done around here," laments Meadows.

This weekend Fresco will speak to The World Future Society in Washington, D.C., on "Creativity and Design for a New Civilization." And when he returns Monday, he will act on a recent revelation: His Venus Project is a theme park!

By setting up a video presentation and a tour, charging a modest admission, he can generate the cash to build the same project on a larger scale.

Turns out the man with the big cigar was on the premises all the while.