This week the City Council launched a public consultation on a vision for Oxford in 2050. We want it to be a framework to shape how we develop the city over the next 30 years. Having a framework to guide us will help us to make the right choices to create the sort of city that we are happy with. We can influence the kind of lifestyle that the city will offer; what we would like our children and grandchildren to enjoy in terms of community facilities, workplaces, leisure facilities and green spaces, cultural facilities or how we get around the urban area.
There are other cities in the UK and internationally who have created similar visions for 2050 and beyond. Creating a vision is a powerful tool to promote debate and positive engagement across all aspects of a city’s development, and it has to be a process that involves the people of the city directly. It is all about creating a common set of priorities and aspirations .
Oxford 2050 will build on the renewal of the Local Plan which has been under way for the past 18 months. The development priorities and guidelines in the new Local Plan will establish a framework for the physical aspects of the city’s future, and the Vision 2050 will extend that to cover many of the other aspects of life in Oxford that people cherish – our home, the work we do, our community integration, our values of social solidarity and fairness, our cityscape and our environment.
I first became a councillor 35 years ago, when the first mobile phones weighed in at 10kg; Apple was launching the Macintosh computer; and a science fiction writer coined the term ‘cyberspace’.
The population of Oxford at that time was around 133,000. The Clarendon Centre opened in 1984, when buses could still travel – in both directions – down Cornmarket Street; while in 1990 both Gloucester Green and the ‘new’ railway station opened, creating transport hubs.
Since then we have seen substantial housing growth, many new shops and businesses, new colleges and campuses, and Oxford has moved into a leading position as a world-leading hub of technology and industry.
How different should the city be in 30 years’ time? And it what ways should we be aiming for change?
Oxford has some very special features that we should aim to preserve and enhance; we are the city with the highest percentage of knowledge-intensive activities (71%) in the UK, and we have the youngest population of anywhere in England and Wales, with a median age of 29.9 years. This helps us to achieve the distinction of also being the place with the highest rate of adult physical activity in England – 78%.
However, Oxford is also the least affordable city to live with average house prices that are 16 times people’s average salary. Our state school attainment is below the England average, and a quarter of children live below the poverty line. Air pollution exceeds safe limits in several key locations and global climate change requires us to think seriously about a massive acceleration in carbon reduction measures, and the possible increase in flooding events.
Many cities, of course, face similar challenges, but I believe that we’ve reached a critical point in the history of our 1,000 year old city, as the scale and pace of technological change in the next decade or two will confront us with choices that are too big to be dealt with in the incremental ways that we have adopted in the past.
Looking forward over the three decades to 2050, experts are already predicting huge changes to the way we live, work and travel: driverless and electric cars are a near certainty, global warming is likely to mean big changes to construction and energy policies, the ageing population will mean greater emphasis on health service to maintain active ageing. There may be a move towards implants in our brains to aid learning, insects may be farmed for food, and roads may glow in the dark to light the transport systems. Oxford will have to cater for these sorts of changes and the Oxford 2050 will aim to shape the choices that we have to make. We are in transition towards an uncertain future, but we want to have a vision to guide us in dealing with uncertainty.
Over the next five weeks we will be asking you to consider a different aspect of life in Oxford: ‘work and learning’, ‘people and community’, ‘built and natural environment’, ‘transport and connectivity’ and ‘culture and leisure’. We want to hear from our residents, business and other organisations. For each theme we want you to picture yourself and your family in 2050 and let us know your vision, your preferences and your priorities.