London in the Future -- 100 years from now...
The Ecotopia 2121 project predicts the future of 100 super-ecofriendly cities across the globe as though they have overcome all major ecological challenges and economic problems and gone on to flourish anew. Here's our vision of the future of London -- as inspired by the 16th century book "Utopia".
The Wetlands and Woodlands of London 2121 by Alan Marshall
WHERE DO THE CHILDREN PLAY?
At the height of the hippie movement in London, during one of the city’s economic boom times, London singer-songwriter Cat Stevens wrote the song “Where Do the Children Play?” in which he reflected on the idea of progress, including in his hometown. In the song, the narrator laments the hubris of modern development, especially in the form of skyscrapers, at the expense of the simpler things in life, such as places for children to grow and play.
Many years later, the United Nations set out to describe the features of what they believed would make a 'child-friendly city', which would allow kids to safely partake in typical 'kid activities', like:
(1) meet friends and play,
(2) walk safely in the streets on their own,
(3) enjoy green spaces with plants and animals, and as well:
(4) enjoy equal citizenship within their city.
Future governments of England will probably like to make a big fuss about these laudable goals in front of various international forums, but there’s a real risk that, in the London of the coming decades, urban children will be worse off than they are today.
The Car-free Roads of London 2121 by Alan Marshall
Sure, the children of the rich will still be able to access private spaces to play with their toys, but both rich kids and children of less well-off families will find the cities of the future an unnavigable confluence of uncrossable roads and overdeveloped private buildings. In the London of the late twenty-first century, it might be that public parks have been ripped up to make way for corporate skyscrapers while inner city schools are allowed to degrade and decay. Sometime during a future economic downturn, the government in Westminster will likely declare that it can’t afford to maintain public parks anymore or keep paying for all the state schools.
By 2100, life in London may lurch toward the Dickensian when London kids line up for five hours on the first Monday of each school term to collect vouchers that afford them subsidized classes in rundown schools under the instruction of poorly paid and poorly trained teachers. The quality of life for pensioners, who do not begin retirement until the age of seventy-five now, has also plummeted as cutbacks in pensions take effect, the government having declared that it can’t afford to pay for all the pensioners either. These two groups, the children and the elderly — both considered, at least in words, the most honored and protected segments of society — become marginalized. Until, that is, a series of events brings them together in 2121.
On a summer afternoon in 2121, the reigning English monarch — let’s call her Queen Maria — takes an evening walk with her granddaughter, Princess Morag, to care for the rare meadow herbs and sedges in the Tower of London garden. “What’s inside the castle, Grandma?” the child asks. Grandma, the Queen, explains that inside there are just a load of jewels and such things.“ What are they doing there, Grandma?” the girl persists. And Grandma continues to explain that they do nothing but sit about gathering dust. “Oh, why can’t we use them to grow more herbal meadows and flowers, Grandma?” the girl pleads. The Queen laughs and suggests that people do not appreciate meadow plants anymore. To this, the child says, “You can teach them to, Grandma, just as you’ve taught me.”
The Meadow Gardens of London 2121 by Alan Marshall
This conversation would have drifted away with the scent of the meadow flowers had it not been for two other events happening at around the same time in London.
First, as a response to UN criticism that England has not done anything to fulfill its obligations to children, the London Council grants voting rights in its elections to all children ten and older.
Second, Grey Power protests, comprising nearly a million angry pensioners, close down the middle of London for months on end. Because it is summertime — and school is out — the grandparents among the protesters bring their grandchildren along, and as a united front they also stake out a right to free lifelong education. Because the protesters have closed the streets to traffic, the city’s air quality improves dramatically. This does not go unappreciated by most of the other residents of London, nor by the hospitals, which notice far fewer admissions related to respiratory problems. The Grey Power protests then assume a Green hue, as environmentalists gather with the grandparents and grandkids to support their cause.
Tower Bridge in London 2121 by Alan Marshall
With the government holding fast to budget cuts, the protestors must pursue a radical solution. They convert eight square miles of central London into a massive eco-village, transforming unoccupied offices into residential buildings, sowing gardens on streetcorners to grow their food, and setting up small, sustainable businesses to trade among themselves.
They also invite all children of London under age twelve to come and learn these skills for free as day students, sending them home to their parents in the evening. Thus, London 2121 is born, a place where children can learn and play in a Green environment and in safety. The plan is that no one between the ages of twelve and seventy-five may enter London 2121.
Also, no authority figures are allowed to enter London 2121: no parents, teachers, police, or politicians. Traffic wardens are welcome, though, and are popular figures, for they jauntily ensure that no cars can drive in the village. To make sure the area is secure, the Queen donates physical portions of the Tower of London to surround London 2121 with an impenetrable wall -- which soon grows green.
Tower Bridge Protective Wall in London 2121 by Alan Marshall
With the help of the villagers, she also grows trees upon Tower Bridge to halt the free flow of motorized traffic. As well, new sources of renewable energy are installed -- harnessing the wind and the river current.
Animation of London 2121
Surprisingly, the rest of London leaves them to it, for a combination of reasons:
- The Queen and her young princess, Morag, are enthusiastic about the whole plan, since both of them are within the eco-village's age limits (and they would welcome some help with the meadow garden).
- Many of the children in this part of London have the right to vote in the local government elections, and they all vote that the London 2121 plan is perfectly legal and logical.
- The whole arrangement ends up providing free day care and free education for tens of thousands of families while saving the government a load of money, since the large financial burden entailed by pensions and education has been relieved.
- The children trained in London 2121 acquire real-life skills from a vast pool of super-experienced and enthusiastic teachers, such that their education ends up being highly valued. As well as all this, there’s a centuries-old precedent of a similar “in-house” pension scheme just across the River Thames in the Royal Hospital Chelsea, where scarlet-coated Chelsea pensioners, retirees from the army, are given free room and board and free healthcare for the rest of their lives. The hospital was set up by King Charles II in 1682, and Queen Maria will be darned if she can’t at least equal this accomplishment.
Alas, some readers might be confused as to why my Republican sentiments have been betrayed in this Case Study for future England. For me, it was just an exercise in trying to experiment in new ways of imagining the future without necessarily adopting the guillotine.
For more on the thinking process that gave rise to this London case study,
you can check out this short video...
The Museum of London also featured this future London scenario in its London Visions exhibition (opened from January 19th to April 15th, 2018). The scenario was also a part of the 2021 London Design Biennale held at Somerset House, London, and is now currently part of a special exhibition on 'Utopian Desire' at the Bauhaus Museum in Weimar.
For a preview of some of the other 100 case study cities of the project, check out the Atlas of Ecotopia 2121.