Hill Valley: A study in Pop culture anthropology
Hill Valley is one of the more successful turnaround stories in America today. Most people don’t know where it is and only a handful of people have ever been there. For those unfamiliar with the history of this town, let me provide a brief background.
Hill Valley was a town born on the back of the California gold rush during the 1850’s. This was a Wild West outpost with outlaws, droughts and saloon brawls. That was until the construction of the clock tower and the expansion of the railroad in 1885. These two events brought prosperity to the town and it enjoyed a peaceful existence with an active town square reaching into the 1950’s.
Much like many cities, Hill Valley experienced suburban flight starting with the development of Lyon estates in 1955 that extended into the 1980’s when Twin Pines Mall was developed, which drew businesses away from their town square. Homelessness, adult stores and boarded up storefronts soon followed.
A renaissance began though for the Square, starting with the effort to save the historic Clock Tower and by 2015 the downtown has again become the center of civic and social life with a new courthouse and public square.
The historic tale I just provided is a true story, however the city of Hill Valley only exists on a movie set in the Back to the Future trilogy.
Despite the fictional story and setting, there is much to learn from this study in pop culture redevelopment. The most interesting fact to note is that this movie was not written or filmed in 2015 looking back to a history of 1885, 1955 and 1985. It was filmed in 1985 during a time when our American downtowns were destitute and searching for an identity. What crystal ball or city almanac from the future did these writers have that could have predicted the renaissance of our core areas? It is true that 2015 did not bring flying cars, hoverboards or self-lacing shoes like those in the 2015 of Back to the Future II, however the lesson I take from this trilogy is not what didn’t take place.
The imperative lesson is that sometimes we have to write a successful story for our future even if the present looks bleak. The Hill Valley of 2015 is a story of revitalization and redevelopment, one that was written 30 years prior. The writers of Back to the Future dreamed of a better outcome for our downtowns. They wrote this future before many of us believed the outcome could be a realistic vision …even if the hoverboard was not. Without envisioning a better future and working toward that goal, a better tomorrow will always be a far reaching dream that always seems to be located somewhere in the future.