December 28, 2017 Alex Blumentals

The City of 2050

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 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.

Rebuilding Alexandria

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..


The “House of Alexander the Great” at the centre of the Braun & Hogenberg map

Diversity makes us smarter

A community is the collective sum of the value of its individual inhabitants multiplied by the community’s ability to synergize these individual parts (by curating organized and random encounters). Every encounter or engagement has an opportunity to be a synergistic one. Empathetic cross-pollinated engagements are the key. The city of Alexandria during the time of Euclid was a perfect example of this. Even though there were organized discussions and forums, just walking down the street could lead to a serendipitous encounter that might result in a groundbreaking discovery.

The fact is that if you want to build teams or organizations capable of innovating, you need diversity. Diversity enhances creativity. It encourages the search for novel information and perspectives, leading to better decision-making and problem solving. Diversity can lead to unfettered discoveries and breakthrough innovations. Even simply being exposed to diversity can change the way you think. This is not just wishful thinking: it is the conclusion I draw from decades of research from organizational scientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists and demographers. Scientific American

Every member of your community is unique and adds to its fabric. Everyone has something to offer and everyone should be heard – no matter their age or social standing.  It’s up to us to find it and help them see it. The more expressively diverse a community is, the more resilient it is and more potential it has to invoke change – both inside and outside its walls. Our focus must actively be on inclusion, not retreat into personal protectionism and paranoia of those different from us. We must resist the temptation of the comfort of “sameness.”  Nothing happens in our comfort zones. If we don’t venture into the land of wonder … we’ll never see, let alone realize the possibilities life avails to us.



Stay tuned!

This is part two of S2S Reactor’s six part series — Toward Building the City of 2050 that we all want to Live in that will be available on Medium within the next two weeks. If you’d like to get them early, sent to your inbox, sign up for Beginnings.

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