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London Visions: Exaggerated realities for possible futures – review

April 25, 2018

The Museum of London’s “London Visions: Exaggerated realities for possible futures” event ended recently.  Its deliberately over-the-top visions were intended as scenarios of the future to provoke discussion and stimulate imagination.  Although exaggerated, these visions are grounded in today’s realities, rather than being wild fantasies.  The curator sought to avoid dystopian or utopian views, instead aiming to identify what adaptations to our way of living each scenario might require.

“Flooded London” takes the current trends of climate change and rising sea-levels and envisages much of the current city underwater. But rather than regard this as a disaster, the vision sees it as a tranquil scene to be enjoyed. A man is pictured rowing into St Paul’s cathedral, and treating it as a swimming pool.  Personally, I don’t think this vision was worked through enough – the ramifications are massive, even if one does look for the upsides.

“Endless vertical London” considers the forecast of 13 million people in London by 2050 and asks how they might be housed. The response is a skyscraper that can be extended upwards without limit because of its spiral construction, and house the whole population of the city. It would contain its own ecosystems to support the occupants.  This contrasts with another vision called “Megalomania” (though it’s not clear to me why) which sees the city endlessly being re-developed, buildings being replaced before they’re completed, the city as a never-ending building site – as I looked around the City afterwards, it seemed that was a very plausible scenario!  Another high density scenario imagined widespread use of autonomous vehicles, which led to reduced need for roads, and the creation of more green spaces.

Another scenario looked at how the development of AI and robotics might play out. It described a fictional company called Farsight which created work environments that were fun – called “playwork”. These places would be so much fun that the issue of work/life balance doesn’t arise, it was all “funemployment”. Interestingly, it acknowledges this might not suit the shy, anti-social or recently bereaved.

A separate part of the exhibition featured the results of a hyper-local social radio project in one tower block in Finsbury Park.  This enabled people to share their views on their locality and their wishes for the future of the city.

Overall, I’m afraid I don’t think the exhibition achieved what it might have done.  The exhibits were all well produced and attractively presented, but I found little emotional resonance; I didn’t get a real feeling of what it would be like living in that world. The concept of taking a known trend and exaggerating it sounded exciting, but the visions produced weren’t worked through enough – what would my home look like, how would I travel, what would work be?

When SAMI produces scenarios for clients we put particular emphasis on how people would behave. Illustrating the scenario with news headlines is another way of capturing the feel of a new world. We often produce “a day in the life of…”  word-pictures, or actual cartoons to capture the challenges and novelty of different potential worlds.  It is essential that the scenario, no matter how different or challenging, continues to feel like a real world, with all its complications and difficulties.

JR's scenario picture

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Written by Huw Williams, SAMI Principal.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

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