Recipe for a joyous, hedonistic, conscious and vibrant urban future
Ed Gillespie is a keynote speaker, writer, communications specialist, serial entrepreneur and a futurist. He is a regular media contributor from the BBC to the Guardian, and has given speeches to the UN and national governments, multi-national corporations and global associations. To him, smarter life in human cities means many things, but it starts with sustainability and true regeneration.
He believes that in this unprecedentedly urbanising century, cities are the crucible of where we decide our collective fate in the face of the planetary challenges of biodiversity loss and climate change. He encourages his audience to radically reignite their imaginations as to what cities can be, how they function, look and perhaps most importantly feel. He says:
– This means a root and branch reinvention. It’s manifestly not just about some sort of smart city techno-utopia, although undoubtedly technology will play a key role, but about combining the best of simple, elegant, traditional wisdom and the cutting edge of digital. I call this ‘handicraft and spacecraft’.
– I see beautiful cities of the future with delocalised, walkable and cyclable neighbourhoods, linked by effective, affordable mass transit of electric buses, trams and light rail. I see kid playing freely again in relatively car-free streets. I see urban food gardens making the city edible, with lush green spaces, ‘hairy buildings’ with integral planting, rewilding and forming a bastion for nature buzzing with birds, bees and insects. Cities feeding themselves from food grown within the city itself through vertical and underground farming.
– I see porous surfaces and natural water management with ponds and lakes and unculverted rivers, so every child knows the sound of trickling water. I see buildings generating more energy than they consume through renewable energy and transformative efficiency, with generating systems owned by the populace – power to, by and for the people! I see wood and natural materials not just concrete, glass and steel. I see a celebration of diversity; the melting pot of human urban identity transcending cultural, racial and religious barriers and creating innovative collisions, collaborations and co-operations within and between communities. I see clean air and streets. I see the best of humanity gathered together through positive choice not resignation. I see truly participatory local democracy making real decisions on budgets and priorities on the things that really matter to local people. I see meaningful work for everyone contributing to a greater whole and a proper valuing of jobs that create real value for people and planet not just economic value for the few. For me our urban future can be joyous, hedonistic, conscious and vibrant. Cities are where we act to become ‘net zero’ on carbon, teaming with nature and life, and truly connect with one another and the wilder world and systems that truly sustain us. This won’t all be done through our phones and data! But make no mistake – every aspect of this is genuinely possible with the right vision, commitment and leadership.
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The answers we need already exist
Gillespie uses humour to disarm people, challenge their assumptions playfully, point out and satirise the ridiculousness of many of the ways we do things and organise ourselves, which is often an unintentional legacy of cumulative incremental change, not the ambitious and aspirational transformation we so urgently and really need. With his speech at Evolve Arena, “People make places: A regenerative grassroots carnival to reimagine cities?”, he wants to make people dream the impossible and believe they can make it real.
– Everything I list above is ALREADY happening in small enclaves and projects around the world. All the answers we need already exist. What we need is the bravery and courage to speak out, take risks, challenge the orthodoxy and status quo and to be bold. I believe if we can cultivate a mindset of vivid imagination and capture the hearts and minds of people, this is all eminently possible.
– As Charles Eisenstein says, “The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible”. Let’s make that happen!
– People make cities. We need to unleash their true potential to make them authentically brilliant. And this should be FUN. This is why I talk of a grassroots carnival of change. People will change the world because they want to, not because they have to.
A sassy invite to a rebellious revolution
We ask Ed Gillespie what he personally thinks is most important when we`re developing our future cities. And what in his opinion is the one thing decision-makers most often forget when they’re trying to make human cities:
– I used to say “sustainability”. But I fear that sustainability is now acting actively as a drag on real innovation. It’s not about doing the same things differently or slightly better, increasing efficiency. It’s about actually doing better things. So many decision-makers are ‘locked-in’ to creaking paradigms of thinking. Even if every car is electric, we’ll still be sat in clean quiet traffic jams! The solution is not ‘electrify cars’ the solution is reclaim streets and neighbourhoods for pedestrians and cyclists!
– People forget that transformation takes heart-felt leadership, vision and persuasion. To say the unsayable, to make the difficult arguments, to stir and feed the collective spirit, and to make change tangible and real for people in terms of the benefits. Our cities can sound different. They can smell different! Our experience of both cities and one another can certainly be different. This is what a regenerative mindset really means. It can’t be done only in a top-down way by businesses and planners. It has to be a rebellious revolution from the household level up. That’s what I`ll say to my audience at Evolve Arena: Come on! Don’t YOU want to get involved in this evolution?!
Written by: Ann-Sophie Stene