How can we imagine a future that we want to live in?
A few times in history it was collective action that built our future as a civilization. The building of Alexandria in Egypt was one such time, but you all probably guess that probably many more instances underpin out lives every day, often without noticing. What happens in a city at all levels and in every situation, is the lifeblood of culture, innovation, health and the pleasures of living with a purpose.
When we are asking you to share with us your stories of 2050, what we expect is that your reflections reveal these innumerable collisions and collaborations, the combinations, the possibilities that have materialized in a hypothetical distant future of 2050. Discard what didn’t work, collapse and end-of-world scenarios, not arbitrarily, but putting yourselves into the place where we actually saw through, showed our grit, and arrived at the city we all want to live in. You all know that there is good reason to be worried. On a personal level the stress, lack of purpose and connection to our jobs, the endless studies and talks that seemingly make little headway to where we need to go to make sure living conditions on Earth remain stable and friendly to humans, plants and animals. Many jobs that we loved are gone, and too few new ones are really engaging and interesting. While for some the situation can be described as never having been better, for others, it is definitely not sustainable and heading for a bad end.
There is no reason for this to happen, especially if we build the awareness of our possibilities, of what is in our hands now, and we choose to act on it together. The current state of play is that cities are taking on extraordinary action and becoming the object of innovation and transformation themselves. The choice of 2050 as an hypothetical future for this task comes from many cities who like Gent, Oslo, Copenhagen, Berlin,London, New York, Portland, Sydney and many others in the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance, have staked as the time when a zero emissions and sustainability condition will have been achieved. Exciting new possibilities for Innovation Zones are emerging. Sidewalk Labs (Alphabet company) is conducting a prototype in Toronto. Stockholm has also a fantastic ongoing experiment in Urban Forest. Berlin is planning what and how Templehof Airport could become and Saudi Arabia is boldly embarking on the next huge dream city. This is exciting because the urgency of finding a way to that future cannot be postponed.
It really begins with us here. There is no future as such really, only what we chose to do now. There are no ‘experts’ in the future, expertise is always of the past, and we know that grand designs that begin with ambitions to achieve very concrete pictures of a future reality, normally have always failed. It is usually collective action, visible and invisible, the collisions of forces and melting pot role of magic cities, or historical moments, that set the basis for ages to come. That is why our choice is a deeply participative, inclusive and super intensive co-creation process, where many cities, companies and people can share into figuring it out the future they want and build it out together now.
Ptolemy once asked Euclid if there were a shorted way to study geometry than the Elements, to which he replied that there was no royal road to geometry.
There is no royal way to the future. Euclid however, was able to compile the knowledge of his time thanks to the operation of the city of Alexandria as a center of the accumulated knowledge of the time. In his studies and writings on the revitalization of cities, Clay Forsberg wrote this superb piece on the role Alexandria played to set the course for the next 2,000 years of history. Euclid’s most famous work is his treatise on mathematics The Elements. The book was a compilation of knowledge that became the centre of mathematical teaching for 2000 years. Probably no results in The Elements were first proved by Euclid but the organisation of the material and its exposition are certainly due to him.
We are in the same point as then. The knowledge is all around us and what we need to figure out are the axioms. the hero is not one, but a process of co-creation…. enabled by being at the diverse cross-pollinated intellectual melting pot of the world. Rather than beset by religious and societal division, as Alexandria then, Riga now becomes a bastion of inclusion and open thought. Thinkers worldwide traveled then from afar to participate in the discovery and synthesis that are needed to organize life for the cities we want to live in.