This is a response to the Meeting of the Minds group blogging event, October 6, 2015. It was revised slightly on October 7, 2015.
[Also the TM Forum republished many of these ideas in a blog post of its own in 2015 – entitled Robots with rights and hardly any hospitals: Experts envision cities in 2050. Given I was still pretty new to blogging and to ‘futurism’ that was pretty exciting!]
The year is 2050. Write a letter to the people of 2015 describing what your city is like, and give them advice on the next 35 years.
Things are really different in 2050. Not just for Adelaide but for the whole world. The physical world looks different, you’d notice many changes. But our values and expectations have also changed, and our day-to-day lives are dramatically different.
As you know the Adelaide of 2015 is predominantly suburban. It has a great position between hills and the sea. There are wonderful wineries just out of the city. Yet our economic destiny is precarious. There is great frustration at how difficult it seems to be to break through and address our problems.
In your immediate future Adelaide accepted that it needed to make big changes. It had little money to invest in this – so it opened up to creative thinking. It nurtured a culture of experimentation. It welcomed in people with ideas and it redirected investment toward these ideas. It took time but the spirit of the city changed. It used to feel constrained. It began to feel interesting and creative. Changing the feeling of the city was critical to attracting people to live here. It’s now a stimulating place to be. By embracing risk and creativity Adelaide was able to solve its own problems – and this built confidence.
Climate change and urbanisation led to the creation of a new World Council of Cities in the 2020s. Every city agreed to focus on solving an important ‘problem’ for the world. Adelaide chose to focus on active ageing and intergenerational connections. Interpreting this challenge in creative ways has helped the city create new social and economic opportunities.
We chose this priority because we already had some momentum and we needed to benefit from all of our talent – not just the young. Living much longer, people wanted their whole lives to be meaningful and interesting. Older people wanted to remain connected with younger generations. They had a horror of aged care and nursing homes. Too many people seemed to lose their zest for life when they stopped working – despite having so much knowledge to share and so much they still wanted to learn. Without a great sense of purpose people experienced more health issues.
At the same time housing was increasingly unaffordable. Owning a house was going out of fashion – it just felt to people that paying a mortgage required you to sacrifice too much. People realised it was just a way to enrich the banks. So groups of people created ‘themed cooperatives’ that took the best aspects of community and independent living, created new forms of housing and created a spirit in line with the times.
Starting small, these communities grew to offer all sorts of services. It was not as expensive to live this way – the nascent ‘sharing economy’ developed in all sorts of unexpected directions. It was great for single parents and for single people as well as for all types of families. It just seemed to reduce the pressure on everyone and it was needed because of other changes going on at the same time.
At the same time technology started making it much easier to be independent. Robots and smart home systems transformed day-to-day living. Illness was reducing through smart technology helping people stay well and opportunities to connect to others making life more enjoyable. Back in 2015 there was such fear about increasing health costs – but an amazing 35 years later hospitals hardly exist – except as healthy places where people got for respite. There are so many better ways to overcome illness. And so much day to day support provided by robots which care for people; look after children; create almost everything; and have (oddly enough) restored a warm humanism to the world. There are all sorts of movements to recognise the political rights of robots – there is still great fear that humanity will lose its capabilities.
As you might imagine, the city looks different. The suburbs no longer feel uniform. Co-operatives have changed neighbourhoods and streets. Lots of small, interesting enterprises have popped up. Small factories are located all across the city to print anything you may want that you can’t print at home– including houses. Our homes are super intelligent – we have far less space but use it much more efficiently. With electric and autonomous vehicles ( which can be very small or large) the city is safe but also very quiet. You can hear the birds sing again. It’s one of the most dramatic changes.
As for children, schools don’t exist in the way they did in 2015. They just weren’t working as they should to inspire students and they were too ‘industrial’ – not suited for our times. We realised that schools seemed to suck the confidence and creativity out of people – rather than inspire them. These days developing our potential is the most important thing we can do to contribute to the world. Initially there were private schools or charter schools. Now, the idea of school no longer really exists. Students go to various places – or stay home – according to the interests they are pursuing. They can immerse themselves in classes from all over the world. But there is no substitute for really connecting with people. We have ‘villages for learning’ – where all age groups (from the very young to the very old) learn with each other. They’re much more fun and people can generally find a niche – a place where they can develop their potential.
Of course, the working world has changed. Almost everyone is self-employed- working on projects, usually in teams, making things, teaching, helping others and helping to solve problems. Most people have multiple sources of income – some quite small. On the whole people earn less but there are many opportunities to create income. These changes have not been easy and people have found it very difficult to transition. Yet it’s helped that we value different things – we no longer admire those who have made lots of money – we admire people who have achieved interesting things or solved important problems or have created fantastic connections between others.
There is a new important role of connector. These people almost act as an orchestra conductor – seeing opportunities such as people who should connect with each other or ideas that may complement. They bring people and ideas together and do so in such amazing ways that they’re almost the new pop stars of the era. Connectors also help people uncover their talents and discover how to make the most of them. They help people find inspiration.
We’ve needed to rethink the role of the city centre. We no longer need tall office buildings and there’s no such thing as ‘rush hour’ as people don’t travel into work like they used to. The focus of our city centre is as a cultural centre, as an intellectual centre and as a central meeting place for collaboration. It’s the most important space for connecting. People still want thriving city centres. ‘Museums of the 20th century’ offer opportunities to ‘role play’ and immerse yourself in other ways of living. These immersive experiences are really helpful – expanding skills and problem solving. It’s also fun. There are lots of ways to have immersive and fun experiences – we are far less serious as a result.
Then there is the issue of energy. In 2015 you were obsessed with energy – how it was created, how much it cost, where it came from. No-one thinks about energy at all anymore. Why? Because every single surface, every single breeze, every single movement creates energy and all these small contributions are brought together to power anything you want with smart technology. Things mostly power themselves. We no longer need oil, gas or nuclear energy– we use movement, sun, wind, bacteria. Our roads create energy. It’s amazing, but it’s not even modern! It’s been like this for years and years.
Abundant energy means we also don’t need to worry as we once did about access to water. Adelaide suffered greatly from droughts but abundant energy has made it easy to desalinate seawater. This has enabled us to make more of the land arable and the city feels cooler, greener – so important when the weather has only gotten hotter during the peak of summer. We have turned to abundant plantings – learning from older civilisations about how to make the city feel cool. We no longer use harsh materials for buildings and roads – and this has made the city far more attractive. It’s shady and cool in summer and protected in winter.
The most prestigious work these days is creating stories. We love to lose ourselves in stories – in new worlds, and virtual travel, in sophisticated games and crazy experiences. It’s impossible to be bored – there is always a new world to explore and new experiences to have. We can immerse ourselves in worlds in ways that are beyond your understanding. So there have been lots of debates about ‘virtual’ and ‘real’ lives. Some cities struggle to match the virtual world which can be so tempting, and exciting. But even the dull places and spaces in cities that are authentic are now highly valued because of that.
Adelaide still looks much like your city in 2015 but it feels completely different. We live very differently. We’re more conscious of our contribution to the world and we see ourselves as very connected to each other and to other cities. Yes there is much we would still change if we could and much I haven’t discussed that is less positive – but on the whole the city in 2050 is a good place to be.