What about our city in 2040? – An attempt of visioning

Your city in 2040: How will you, your friends and neighbours live given all these upcoming changes in demography, lifestyle, technology, climate …? How will life look like in more than 20 years? What will be the headlines in the local news? These were the questions I asked young citizens at the age of 18-23 years in two visioning workshops, which I organised in the city of Hofheim am Taunus in Germany. The feedback surprised me. First, there did not come up any ideas about the future!? These guys have rarely thought about it yet. Next, rather dark visions came up.

The young people perceived many of the trends and changes as a threat rather than seeing opportunities. Internet, telecommunication, virtual reality: While they use that technology, they suffer from the downside of it by loosing human contact and empathy, but they expect the trend will continue and even worsen. Driverless busses, cars: That feels uncomfortable. Climate change: I don’t really want to think about what will come in the future; it is frightening. Who works towards capitalizing the opportunities then?

While I see these risks too, I also notice the opportunities in form of greener, more social and liveable cities if we act wise and I particular now. However, they do not see it. Maybe it is for our communication. We experts and also media inform about the serious consequences of climate change, but we do not talk equally about the chances to turn things around. Many people seem to see climate and other change as a doom, and looking at many blockbuster movies on the future seems to support this. People are frightened, feel helpless. They ignore the problem or resign.

However after a while, the young people produced also positive visions and had fun to brainstorm ideas. Some crazy ideas popped up, but that exactly enabled to look out of the box. It was eventually the first time that they were asked to deliver ideas for their city and that they saw ways how they could shape the future. They did no longer feel completely on the mercy of all the ongoing change. Instead they formulated their wants, explored how trends could be influenced or used in a more desirable way and what conditions in the city or in general are needed to change towards achieving this future – whether it is people’s behaviour, administrative procedures or distribution of power.

The two workshops were rather short and designed to test an approach for a much broader visioning processes; and this approach was confirmed indeed. Despite these constrains in time and the number of participants, they finally developed some encouraging and lively ideas of the future. An important game changer from doom to positive visions was a notion of empowerment among the participants. Feeling that they can actively contribute shaping that future and are not at the mercy of developments just happening around them boosted creativity and engagement. While I knew about the importance of participatory processes, I must admit that I was not aware how far reaching that effect can be - not just for a specific project but overall for a positive future vision.