Future Wellington: An Agrarian Utopia Emerges from Catastrophe
The Ecotopia 2121 project details the future of 100 cities across the globe as though they've somehow overcome all environmental challenges and become super ecofriendly. This month, we highlight the future of New Zealand's capital: Wellington.
Wellington, a city on the North Island of New Zealand, faces a double whammy in the form of two significant future threats: human-induced climate change and a mighty natural disaster of a seismic nature. One historical precedent for the latter threat is the Great 1855 Earthquake, which changed the coastal outline of Wellington forever, raising many square miles of new land from the sea. It was on this new land that the modern city was eventually built.
Accompanying these seismic shifts, Wellington’s waterline will also probably change drastically because of sea-level rise, and this may mean the erosion and drowning of its low coastal areas by 2121. The eroded and drowned sections of the city will likely include the zones where the city’s embassies, banks, and government buildings are currently located, along with the airport, the seaport, and part of the only highway that connects Wellington to the rest of the nation. During this epochal change, many Wellingtonians will probably make their way elsewhere, but many others will choose to stay.
To recover after such a tumultuous and isolating events, Wellington 2121 looks to the cultural history of the area. New Zealanders are proud of their agrarian heritage. After all, the nation became a very prosperous country early last century through farming. More recently, many New Zealanders have shown pride in their nation’s association with Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings world as represented in a series of blockbuster movies. This affection is such that, for a week each year, the Wellington council renames the city “Middle Earth,” during which time various motifs and themes from the Rings movies adorn the city to make it look as though some pagan festival of the arts is in full bloom.
In Wellington 2121, a Shire-esque communitarian settlement is developed into a real-life extended village in the Wellington hills. Here, in this post-disaster zone, the central government has abandoned the remaining residents to let them run their own affairs, allowing them to harvest energy from Wellington’s abundant winds and to trade in domestic agricultural produce—as in days of old.
In Wellington 2121, formal education has ground to a halt, but in its stead apprenticeships abound in the arts and crafts of aquaculture and boat-building. This enables young locals to develop an enviably productive and quietly profitable lifestyle. Those Wellingtonians seeking a more 'exciting' or 'highly sociable' way of life may then build for themselves a boat and sail freely to the South Island, which is visible in the distance.
According to some futurists, most modern societies are probably heading for new types of civilizations in the twenty-first century, and they are likely to get there through a cascading series of grand disruptions, as in the case of Wellington in this scenario. After such grand disruptions, cities may recover with a transformed sense of how to avoid similar crises in the future. We can imagine that Wellington’s post-disaster future allows for such a transformation, and the new architecture of the city is one example. To survive earthquakes, architects opine that single-story buildings are the most durable and resilient. Thus, where now Wellington boasts more skyscrapers than any other city in the country, it will be distinctly “low-rise” come 2121 AD.
One other proud tradition in New Zealand that might be of use in Wellington 2121 is known as “Kiwi ingenuity.” (New Zealanders have long referred to themselves colloquially as “Kiwis,” a term adopted from the name of New Zealand’s national bird, not from the name of the fruit, which also grows abundantly there). Kiwi ingenuity is a tradition of adaptability in the face of limited resources. The term usually reflects the ability of the average New Zealander to cobble together new devices from leftover bits of old machines. Generally, this is done in an ad hoc manner, without much pretense of finesse or replication.
However, under the apprenticeship schemes in Wellington 2121, individual instances of Kiwi ingenuity are widely replicated among the community. From old bits of useless cars and computers, the community is able to fashion new and far more appropriate devices, such as small-scale wind turbines, plows, and the rigging for boats.
All over the industrializing world, billions of people have moved into cities from rural settings. During the same time period, small villages have been transformed into large metropolises. This pattern is not followed here, however. Wellington 2121 will have transformed itself from what is usually perceived as “modern” to a “traditional” village-like settlement.
Of course, if you ask local people from Wellington 2121 why they chose to “go back to the past”, they may well appear confused by the question. This is not backward; this is forward. This is the way to survive and be happy.