#CHfuturescapelondon is fantastic – as a video game – not as a brave new world


View of London as it is, from The Shard. Photo by Benjamin Davies on Unsplash


“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life”
– Jack Kerouac

I’ve often thought that Aldous Huxley would’ve been a good city planner. A robust imagination is an asset to anyone, but especially to city planners.

Huxley’s early 1930s novel ‘Brave New World’ shows us the London of the future in AF (After Ford) 632 or 2540 AD according to the Gregorian calendar. It is a world of artificial wombs and an approved societal method of keeping citizens peaceful, namely the happiness-producing drug Soma.

Sound familiar? The world’s first test tube baby, Louise Brown, was born 41 years ago in a Manchester hospital. Marijuana legalisation is steadily gathering pace across the western world.

So there’s much to be said for a good imagination but honestly, it must have some basis in reality.

Consider Futurescape London, a new 3D digital model for city centres. Launched by Chatham House, the thinktank, it was developed with Platform Group and the School of International Futures. According to Chatham House, the model was created after extensive consultation with scientists, architects, designers, sustainability experts and trend analysts.

The model tracks Piccadilly Circus, at the heart of London’s West End, in 2035, 2060, 2090 and 2121. Click here to try out #CHfuturescapelondon and think about what it’s doing. Basically, it’s creating a vision of, as Chatham House says, a more positive urban future. In this imagined future, there are stringent efforts to meet emissions reduction goals, urban space is adapted “to serve people rather than commerce and cars”, there are “Storytelling benches” and augmented reality that allows for “new human connections, while aspects of a wellbeing economy have taken root.”

London 2060 has adapted “to rising sea levels”, is powered by efficient renewable energy and is “a world transformed culturally as much as physically, with insect-based snacks on sale and an economy evolved around principles of upcycling, upgrading and exchange.” In 2090, the model shows “vertical farms, giant energy and lighting structures, new religious identities and flying ‘sky barge’ homes.” Fast forward a hundred years from 2021 and there are “low gravity marketing pods [that] simulate Lunar and Martian lifestyles”. London 2021 also has shapeshifting buildings.

It’s fantastic — as a video game — but that’s where the #CHfuturescapelondon’s link to the real world ends.

On what basis is #CHFuturescapeLondon imagining that the British capital will become greener and more prepared “to serve people rather than commerce and cars?”

In Greenwich, where I live, a developer is, right now, proposing to build 1,300-1,400 flats, new commercial space and a new “public square”.

That proposal would turn a big open space, which used to be a sports field 25 years ago, into a hideously built-up area.

Okay, the space is currently a car park but if London as a city were serious about greening its future, local authorities would be demanding detailed plans for planting rather than for simply throwing up new flats.