the emerging stories of a reimagined city life, under new socio-economic conditions
the emerging stories of a reimagined city life, under new socio-economic conditions
These stories imagine the future of the City of London, as one by one, different scenarios for an alternative future were imagined, accumulatively, across the 5 days of WE KNOW NOT WHAT WE MAY BE. Taking the area around the Barbican, we wondered what might emerge in the locality of the City of London – Britain’s globally-focussed financial district. Everything in CAPITALS references a scenario that was voted through by the audience – you can find details of these, and their sources, here.
What follows is a montage of some ways the 2040s might look, gathered from everyone involved…
Thanks to REDUCED BUSINESS RATES FOR SHOPS SELLING LOCAL PRODUCE (16), the amount of fresh produce produced under 50 miles from where it is sold has doubled – and food miles have more than halved, as local shops now undercut supermarkets in selling fresh, locally produced seasonal vegetables. Floating veg markets ply their trade up the river Thames. People also hold veg exchanges, influenced by the new models of NEIGHBOURHOOD ELECTRICITY EXCHANGE (5), as people are now allowed to sell any surplus electricity they make to others in their area, rather than having to sell it back to the grid. This has brought in a particular useful source of revenue for schools, who have invested heavily in solar (and the odd wind turbine by the football pitch).
Building the infrastructure to create this localised interconnectivity has been enabled by SUBSIDIES DIVERTED FROM THE OIL AND GAS INDUSTRY (15) – $24 billion to date, matching what in 2018 was offered in tax relief to energy companies purchasing North Sea sites. Oil companies are increasingly moving into producing plastics, funding research and publicity aimed at undermining confidence in alternatives to plastic.
Solar panels have shot up in price because everyone wants them – and the City certainly has more than its fair share. So a few clever people are creating alternative systems – outdoor gyms, dynamo bikes – generating electricity as well as keeping people fit. School kids compete on social media to be the highest energy producers, bankers use energy gyms before work.
Life is easier for a lot of people since the introduction of CITIZEN CARE INCOME (4) – but rent is still very high, and wages low – and many still struggle to make ends meet. Nevertheless, it has pushed up wages for the service jobs (cleaning, couriering, security) that underpin the City – because given that the citizen income is enough to get by on in the short-term, people can leave jobs if the pay isn’t good enough: enabling them to demand better conditions.
Nevertheless, companies exploit the citizen income, meaning that young people find it difficult to progress beyond internship level. After an outcry, there is greater scrutiny, and many companies create new kinds of job pathways. These are often part-time – but for as part-time work opportunities are highly prized, as people now feel they want, and are able to, give more time to other aspects of their lives. Younger generations have more time for taking care of older generations, who are also enabled by the multiplication of neighbourhood initiatives to stay healthier for longer.
The overall cost of running the NHS is now lower despite the increase in elderly people. Since the introduction of UNIVERSAL ESSENTIAL SERVICES (33), the NHS has been fully taken back into public ownership, with no more contracting out to private companies, enabling massive efficiency savings, and more equal rates of pay. The collapse in stress-related and non-communicable diseases from obesity to diabetes has saved a fortune – research shows that this is partly due to perceptions of greater equality, and partly due to reduced isolation and precarity now that everyone has basic security and access to services, and most neighbourhoods are much more socially interconnected.
Generally, we are still consuming a lot – people still see their identity as expressed in what they choose to buy (or not buy). But the distance travelled by many of our goods is less and many more people are vegan, but Spitalfields Silvopasture, financed through SOIL RESTORING SUBSIDIES (22) with cattle roaming free under an orchard on the site of the former Spitalfields market, is both a source of high quality meat, and provides a minor carbon sink that reabsorbs some of the City’s carbon emissions. To the surprise of many, the meat ration initiative has proved remarkably successful. The battery-farmed, antibiotic-filled meat of yesteryear has vanished from supermarket shelves. Most people now refuse to eat food that has been ‘doped’, so the market for pesticides has collapsed.
After the riots in 2030, it was agreed that there should be an additional mobility allowance for people with disabilities. It was also agreed that for people to participate fully in their neighbourhoods, they need improved public spaces, so now there is a citizen’s forum on every high street, a space where people come together to discuss their needs. The funding is then provided to support the transformation of public space to make it accommodate different mobility requirements. The main aim of all services now is good provision wherever it is needed, rather than least possible provision at least cost. Still, the NHS struggles during heatwaves, when the funding won’t stretch to cover the large numbers of elders and young children needing urgent care.
The wind now belongs to the people – BRINGING OFFSHORE WINDFARMS UNDER UK CONTROL (6) has reduced prices and enabled the amount of our energy that is produced by renewable sources to leap to 80%. Laid-off oil workers lay on protests but soon find new jobs in the new industries. Conservationists are calling for the state to invest in special sensors that enable birds to navigate past the offshore windfarms without injury. There is frustration among fishing people that priority is being given to windfarms, displacing sea ecosystems and meaning they have to travel further out to sea to fish.
The Swansea tidal barrier has finally been built, and it has transformed the town, bringing jobs and a thriving, hopeful culture, aiming at zero carbon: now a more realistic goal than ever before. However, the reduction in prices means people have started to use more electricity. Across the UK we are using electric cars, electric trains, trams, leaving the lights on because it is cheap… There are lots of house parties.
Thanks to the ‘FIFTH GREEN’ RULE (7) that requires buildings to be covered in 1/5 VEGETATION, there’s an explosion in jobs for abseilers gardening the green walls. The water waste incurred had to be sorted out – because all the greenery died in the extreme summer heatwaves of the mid-late 2020s. Now more resilient plants are used that need less water.
After regular floods over the 2020s the road above the Fleet river in the City was damaged and even collapsed in one place. Some young architects, who set up a practice (supported by their citizen income), have started pop-up riverside parties, because they’ve persuaded companies who own the property along there to let them do their greening for them. But it is only pop-up, here and there, because there’s a lot of commercial properties and private land there – and the road is busy with electric vehicles, mostly run by Uber.
Since the introduction of renewables, there have been a lot of conversations going on in neighbourhoods, in local pubs and community centres – wherever people are able to get together to discuss how local provision could work. People have started to get to know each other – and now, whenever a pub is threatened with closure by a large brewery, its regulars convert it to a community business, to retain it as a drinking place and meeting hub. With SUPERMARKETS NOW CHARGED FOR WASTE (44), people invent the neighbourhood cook-ups, public meals for anyone to join, made from food taken off the supermarket’s hands.
Perhaps unsurprisingly supermarkets quickly find themselves able to improve the efficiency of their systems, so there isn’t quite the abundance of free ‘waste’ food as at first. But the cook-ups also pick up produce from the plethora of small local-rates shops – there’s often a glut of strawberries, or cabbages, or whatever is in season.
The consumer revolution, as it is known, has been steered by the REQUIREMENT FOR MANUFACTURERS OF NON-RECYCLABLE ITEMS TO PAY INTO AN ENVIRONMENTAL FUND (12) to offset potential future damage and/or safe disposal costs. It is therefore much easier now to buy goods that last, and people mostly save up for things that they really love, look after, adapt and update, rather than using it and chucking it away. This is true of laptops, phones, bags, clothes, smoothie-makers, kids toys…
The CARBON TAX (1) has led to lots of jobs being created in research and manufacturing of alternative energy technologies – with all the big players in the City investing in renewables – and particularly in increasing efficiency in the use of materials. All the big pension funds have rapidly divested from investing in oil – with a global collapse in oil prices, unleashing widespread unrest in the middle east as their revenues collapse.
Some multinationals have seen opportunities in desert solar power. This isn’t such good news for those living around the edges of the Sahara desert. The people in Mauritania and Morocco haven’t seen much benefit from the hundreds of miles of solar fields covering their lands, given much of the power is cabled to Europe, or charged back to them at extortionate prices. There are regular attacks on the fields, with protesters calling for the World Bank to make it mandatory for energy to be publicly owned to be eligible for a world bank loan.
Unlike any other energy measure, carbon tax has had a massive effect on the car market. There’s now conversion workshops replacing almost every garage – with electric cars everywhere, and a raft of apprenticeships available to school leavers. It hasn’t affected the UK much on the supply front as we are all getting so much cheap energy from renewables already – and there’s good public services, which are also already fossil fuel free.
In Nigeria, at first there is civil unrest after the oil companies pull out, leaving behind their environmental mess – but the ‘great clean-up’ becomes a world-leading model for social change, demonstrating the transformation that takes place when people are able to take charge of their own landscape again.
The TRACE-IT TAX (18) has had a significant impact in China, Vietnam, Bangladesh. Being paid a better wage and experiencing less environmental degradation has transformed the lives of millions of textile workers. Once bright blue, green, yellow or red rivers now run clear in China, now any release of fabric dye from factories would attract a hike in trace-it tax. Meanwhile pop-up ‘make-your-own’s have appeared on many high streets, taking over empty shops, and teaching skills to design and sew their own clothes. Textile waste has plummeted.
A new parliamentary act requires OWNERSHIP OF ALL LAND AND PROPERTY to be REGISTERED TO A NAMED ACCOUNTABLE INDIVIDUAL (3) (or a nominated representative of a company who is personally accountable). As a result, previously inflated house prices in London plummet in the richest areas, as offshore ownership becomes impossible, and the internationally wealthy take the funds they want to hide elsewhere. It also becomes clearer how much wealth is held by the City of London, not only in the square mile, but all across London.
The City pledges to use more of this wealth for the common good. As a result, the Corporation converts City offices left empty after the mass post-oil exodus into the largest all-purpose high-rise care complex in the world – including an emotional outpour centre, and intergenerational residential home, a time-out space, a refuge for those experiencing violence at home. People from all over London – and not just the City – are able to come there for respite care of different kinds, and it is soon used by upwards of 20,000 people annually. It is soon overwhelmed by demand, so the City builds further care complexes on its land in every London borough.
The architect’s practice who opened up the river fleet are looking for a new project – they often come to the cook-ups, and when they get talking to Flo, they realise they could make a useful intervention. There’s a new mobility fund – as part of the provision of universal essential services – and so they apply for funding, for a series of sky walkways, so that people with mobility difficulties can get from building to building without having to go to the ground. This also means they get access to the green roofs that are springing up everywhere. It also makes it a whole lot easier to repair the small turbines that are on the sides of most buildings now.
A REAL LIVING WAGE (45) means that care workers can now feed their kids. A living wage means that people have less need for payday loans.
A living wage means that people have more control over their lives – and don’t have to have as many jobs to make ends meet. It has solved the problem that citizen care income was enabling employers to pay less – now people are paid properly for what they do. Because the citizen care income provides a safety net, they can also leave if treated badly. This also has transformed levels of respect for workers in retail and services.
The living wage is calculated by an independent panel.
When THE RIGHT FOR PEOPLE TO RECLAIM DISUSED OR DERELICT LAND (27) came in, it is was easily enforceable across London, thanks to the previously approved legislation that all land and property now has to have a named owner (3). However, since the City of London corporation owns most of the land in the City, and is at the same time the local council, there isn’t much land to replace – however, local people successfully petition for former offices, now empty, to be turned over to artists’ studios and pop-up ‘make-spaces’ for DIY software and hardware innovation in digital technologies. A number of the kids learning coding there have attracted the attention of City workers looking to back the next big thing. With phones, there are so many fun plug-ins now, hardware as well as software – they can be properly individualised now they are made of adapatable components.
Geoff used to work for an oil company, but he was homesick for London, and is now based at the new LOCAL CREDIT UNION (36), running a non-profit venture capital service for lending to start-ups. He also manages the peer-to-peer network (connecting lenders with local people who are looking for start-up funds), which holds regular connection events in the next-door, now community-owned, pub. His records show that in the past year 10,000 former city workers have started small new businesses, thanks to the availability in micro-credit. Not all survive that tough first year or so, but nevertheless the streets of the City now bustle with small shops and locally run cafés. The feel of the streets has been transformed.
This is not least because many international businesses have folded. The new legislation that SHARE-HOLDER PROFITS CAN ONLY BE RELEASED ONCE A CLEAN SUPPLY CHAIN IS PROVED (21) has had a massive, and rapid impact on reducing environmental degradation all over the world. Nevertheless many were taken by surprised these by just how many businesses folded because it turned out their profitability depended entirely on the exploitation of workers and the environment. Other kinds of businesses move into the space they leave: starting from scratch with a clean supply chain makes them a much better bet than those who have to restructure their business.
New phones and laptops become extremely scarce because it is so difficult to make the supply chain clean, particularly in relation to mining. This creates a huge resale and adaptation market. A lot of young people now don’t have their own phone because it is so expensive and why bother when you can meet up with everyone and get really good high-speed internet at the massive youth centre at the bottom of the care complex.
After the changes to tax laws to ensure EVERYONE PAYS THEIR FULL SHARE OF TAX (2) on all UK transactions that happen in the UK, there is a financial crash.
This is partly because so many international companies ever-expanding profitability depended on them being able to move money to wherever it would be taxed least. The shockwaves are offset through CREATING MONEY FOR THE PEOPLE (23). The government prints less than half of what was created to bail out the banks in the years after the 2008 crash, but it has a seismic effect on enabling the country to transition to a fully green economy, creating hundreds and thousands of jobs across the country, revitalising the NHS, making built infrastructure many times more efficient in its use of energy.
The shrunk stock market rallies, but it is now small-scale, real-life markets that transform the look of the City. To the surprise of many, after a juddery transition, the tax reforms lead to a leap in economic activity, as small-scale businesses and producers flourish in the spaces left by larger corporates. Many investors respond to the new conditions by pulling out their shares of the big corporates and financing start-ups, or lending to co-operatives and non-profit companies. Although investors will never make huge returns this way, many derive satisfaction from seeing their money put to good use.
The world of co-operatives has rapidly expanded since TAX REBATES FOR EMPLOYEE-OWNED COMPANIES (17) was introduced. Workers report much higher levels of job satisfaction, and the economy booms with productive activity.
Tax is now understood as a citizen contribution, rather than a drain on personal resources – transforming attitudes to it. Tax-pride started with high street retailers displaying their tax contribution on a sign outside the shop – and campaigners challenged banks and financial corporations to do the same. The City streets flash with LED panels that display real-time tax contributions. The government holds an annual dinner for corporations and high-net-worth individuals who pay more than their allotted share of tax. This has become especially popular since the government announced that they would put 25% of excess tax income directly into subsidising the arts – many compete to be seen to pay the most tax.
What has helped this sea change in public opinion regarding tax has been the extensive programme of bringing utilities and other national valuables into public ownership. Rather than being directly state-run, these are now run by not-for-profit co-operatives, at arms-length from government, but still answerable to democratic structures.
Now that ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE HAS TO BE UNBIASED BY LAW (31) it can be used to support womens’ health issues, and to support weeding out human prejudices in employment and other areas. It is also used to monitor the health of the elders, and provide early stage interventions, leading to far fewer hospital stays. This has halved the costs for the NHS of elder care, and means people can stay at home until much later. Further, all machine learning, algorithms and other aspects of ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE MUST NOW BE CLEARLY LABELLED (32), so that users can understand what is being determined by machines.
A lot fewer people have cars – when the carbon tax came in, petrol cars got too much of a hassle to run compared with the cost, partly because the public transport network was so vastly improved by the universal essential services movement. now mostly people just borrow a car from one of the subscription services when they need it – whether in the city or countryside. Almost all villages have electric car pools that connect them to their local railway station.
We are spending more time socialising, and less time shopping. There just seems to be other things to do all the time. With the trace-it tax, there’s now regular fashion-swaps – all over the place. Often people come from other neighbourhoods, when they hear there’s a particularly good one. The City swag-swaps on the bank of the Fleet river are renowned – there’s stalls all the way along the bank of the Thames. Often they happen along with a cook-up. People might not have so many consumer luxuries now that single-use items have become so expensive – but they do know how to have a good time.
The City of London, since the imposition of the carbon tax and the clean supply chain rule, have become champions of rapid transition. They now insist that any money channelled to them from tax havens must pay 10% into an Earth fund, which is used to support developing countries to transition to a green economy, and repair damage done to their lands by all the previous years of resource extraction and exploitation. Protesters still claim they shouldn’t be accepting money from tax havens at all.
It has become too expensive to finance citizen income as well as universal essential services and a living wage. A people’s vote decides in favour of lowering citizen income and increasing income tax over £100,000 both by 25%.
Since almost all people – and goods – travel by rail now, the outside lanes of the M25 and the connecting motorways have been turned into protected climate corridors to allow animals and plants to move with the changing habitat – as habitats shift further north-east with climate change.
Through the CITIZEN INFO BILLBOARDS (48), taking up half the space once occupied by commercial advertising, there has been a change in self-perception. People no longer feel that their primary value to society is as a consumer. Young peoples’ self-image has radically improved, and they report much a much higher sense of well-being compared with the all-time low of the early 2020s. Suicide in young men is no longer a major killer, and rates of eating disorders and self-harm in young women is now half what it was a decade ago. Lots of artists – both musicians and visual artists – credit their rise to fame with starting out making work that was displayed on London’s infoboards, where short slots were given to local groups to try out (of course some of the work is terrible, but it was always thus).
Financing green walls – despite everyone loving them – was proving ever more tricky as hot summers – previously called heatwaves – became a norm. Many local authorities brought in the rule that for every square metre of public space taken up by advertising, advertisers had to contribute the costs of the same amount of space being covered in vegetation. Many did this – desperate to find ways of promoting their goods – for advertising no longer has the same impact as before. It seems that peoples’ interests lie elsewhere. Improvements, updates and cross-brand compatibility are more important to customers. No one likes to be fleeced, and there is now a strong sense that purchasing something that does not last is a violation of consumer rights. Strikingly, this was not the case a generation ago.
Despite agitation in some quarters, there has generally been a marked reluctance to bring in direct MEASURES TO REDUCE CONSUMPTION OR CAP WEALTH, with many propositions not being voted through (x41/x49/x24/x25/x26). Nevertheless, the ways in which society have changed has reduced levels of consumption significantly. People are too busy to shop – whether it is setting up their own enterprises, gardening, tending allotments, volunteering, spending time with neighbours. And now that people have more time, they can invest it in making more satisfying connections – in their own neighbourhoods, in their cities, nationally and internationally. There’s a lot more pairing up, which relieves pressure on housing.
When it became clear that having cheaper electricity bills didn’t mean we could just consume more, one measure was switching off night-time digital boards, and using predictive AI technologies for movement-responsive street lighting. Now, night-time London is visually quiet – providing a clear demarcation between the bustle of the day and the night, when the sounds of nature return.
The social shifts start to accelerate.
Critics of the LIFE FUND (42), which entitles every adult to seven paid years of sabbatical at any point over their life-time, had feared it would widen the gender gap, with women needing to use it for caring duties. In fact the opposite happened – citizen income and a living wage had already had a positive impact on the gender and ethnic pay gaps, and once moving in and out of a career became standard, many more men felt able to take time to take care of the next generation. The Life Fund also increased access to universities, reducing the link between class background and education, with people doing degrees at all different stages of life.
Now that PATENTS CAN ONLY BE HELD FOR FIVE YEARS (30), the multinational drug companies have lost their stranglehold on research, universities and the wider market. There has been a shift of research emphasis away from drugs, and towards other kinds of health interventions. The market for anti-depressants has shrunk, as the changes to health provision in local areas has reflected new kinds of self-determination and autonomy, with many mental health disorders being addressed very early on by neighbourhood provision of care and respite, and people having control over their lives.
After decades of lobbying against restrictions on plastics, a HIGH-RATE PLASTIC TAX (19) is brought in, funding the great clean-up. An equally long-contested tax, the FINANCIAL TRANSACTION TAX (13), now regulates the much shrunk stock market, reducing the impact of boom and bust cycles, and ensuring that the damage caused to the economy by excessive financial speculation is offset financially. Stock-market transactions now are much more orientated towards actual, long-term investment.
There’s a sea change in living patterns. With many businesses folding or moving elsewhere, the City of London decides to use the square mile more effectively – it turns over many of its office buildings to multiple use. Thanks to the new regulations that make it ILLEGAL FOR ANY NEW BUILDING DEVELOPMENT TO PRODUCE CARBON EMISSIONS (46), the City uses its capital to invest innovative building and living strategies. Now a third of a City highrise might be residential – often the top floor, for the wonderful views – although these apartments are highly sort after, they are bought to live in, rather than as investments, thanks to the new rule that only THOSE ACTUALLY LIVING/OPERATING IN THE UK CAN OWN UK PROPERTY (38).
The City reflects however the multinational make-up of the rest of London, attracting people from all over the world to live in its smog-free, zero carbon, vegetation-covered inner city housing. Despite high market prices, a quarter of housing is reserved for public sector workers who work locally. Basement space, meanwhile, is leased to companies who provide robot services. This includes distribution, manufacture of small items through 3D printing, sorting of mail, basic financial and other kinds of repetitive administrative tasks – thanks to many companies having taken up the challenge implied by TAX REBATES ON ROBOTICS THAT REDUCE THE NEED FOR HEAVY, REPETITIVE MANUAL LABOUR (35).
Compared with 300,000 City financial sector workers in 2018, there’s now about 100,000 – many of whom work on global compliance with environmental practice, ensuring money can circulate cleanly. Quite a few decided – once they were NO LONGER ALLOWED TO OWN A SECOND HOME (39), and the returns on City employment were no longer so enticing – to move into their seaside holiday places, repopulating areas around the coast of Britain. After SUBSIDIES FOR LOCAL CONSULTATION ON COMMUNITY RESILIENCE TO CLIMATE CHANGE (28) were introduced, to respond to accelerating changes to weather patterns, many unexpectedly found themselves pioneering natural measures for the reducing storm surges that are now a regular feature of coastline life.
THERE ARE NO MORE LANDLORDS (39).
A provocation to the imagination, these glimmers of an altered future riff on a multiplicity of evolving possibilities, a snapshot and starting point, actively inconclusive, provoking, we hope, another conversation.