Peering into the future can have a whiff of H.G. Wells about it- brain implants, houses which grow, going to work as a hologram.
In fact, the basic features of how we do things remain remarkably constant. We won’t all be working a two-day week: we’ve been told that before, and it didn’t happen. Instead, we will still be going to work as normal, travelling along roads, taking our children to school, relaxing together over a meal. Some of us will talk to our neighbours, some won’t.
Our vision, therefore, must involve identifying the things we value in the way our society fits together, and designing policies and technologies which can allow those values to flourish.
Oxford’s economy in 2050 must support all its residents more equally. That involves enabling education and innovation at every level. Staff in those sectors must have somewhere to live. It means committing to ending inequalities in educational attainment, particularly at younger age-levels, through cooperation and decent funding. It means as much freedom as possible for students, educators and researchers to travel, meet and experience new things. It means small businesses and social enterprises alongside world leaders in R and D. Digital and distance learning will play more of a part, but the social and intellectual importance of being in a room with other students and a teacher will, if anything, increase.
Successful communities are integrated communities. Our old people in 2050 should live alongside and interact with young people. Increasingly, health and social care will not just be about treating us when we get ill, but must be factored in to every aspect of how we design our communities, which means where we live, how we get there, and who we see on the way. We must be more open to innovative ways of building and paying for our living-spaces, even if they are not the models we are used to.
The decision-making process is part of this: at the moment, decisions are too often divided between different agencies, which can mean that the holistic overview, and the details which contribute to it, can get lost, delayed or forgotten about. Policy makers need to continue to work towards a more joined-up approach.
Communities need central focal points, and they need a setting. Too many big developments round the country look like Lego towns, with no centre. And let’s be bold, now, and say that in 2050 we want the principles of Green Belt to be intact: no coalescence of settlements, no urban sprawl, no destruction of the setting of our city.
Architecturally, our city must combine the best of the new with cherishing its less obvious history a little more. There are some fine buildings and corners in the city centre which have almost vanished behind modern development. Several more could go the same way. The unique “painted room” is up a staircase above a bookies. Which other European city would do this? Twenty years ago, Bill Bryson told us that “Oxford has moments of unutterable beauty…but there is also so much that is so wrong”- the work of correcting that goes on.
We must be hard-headed about looking after our environment, and that doesn’t just mean the pretty bits. Increasingly, science can measure what nature provides, in carbon reduction, biodiversity, recreation, physical and mental health and much else.
This must be factored into every aspect of how we do things in 2050, including what we eat and how we get it.
Transport in 2050 must involve more public provision, and lots of really good quality cycling and walking. The asthmatic wheeze of the internal combustion engine should be a distant memory.
The one thing we can predict about technological innovation is that it is unpredictable. But it will bring change. Our aim must be to enable and encourage that change to deliver the vision we share.