A Story of Tomorrow
I am eager to imagine a better world. Here’s a story for today, it’s a FutureVision, it embodies all the hope I have for a more sustainable and regenerative future.
I live in an urban village called Penarth, it was a Victorian seaside town on the edge of the city of Cardiff, before it got subsumed by the sprawl. It is still fondly known as the ‘garden by the sea’. The year is 2037, I have just turned 60. I live in a co-housing community, it’s a block of 1960’s maisonettes, it is an example of an early model of shared ownership. Each dwelling has a share and a vote. The Site Council that sees to decision making is made up of a rolling voluntary commitment from all residents, each dwelling gets a 1 year tenure.
There are 12 seats on the council, each year all dwelling numbers are placed in a digital hat, 12 are chosen at random. In order to maintain consistency and stability, there are also 3 Elder seats, Elders can sit for a maximum of 7 years, their role is to support continuity. Maintenance and upkeep is primarily done by the residents, local community enterprises might be called in for larger jobs.
Residents enjoy a community garden. There is a shared workshop where one can access tools for gardening and DIY, and a laundry, we realised a long time ago that each dwelling having its own washer and dryer was a crazy way to be carrying on!
Most people store a bicycle in one of the hangers outside their block. Some people have electric bikes, there are lots of hills here. We have three electric cars and a van which we share. We used to have over 200 parking spaces on our land, not now, no need for them, that space is filled with raised beds and a polytunnel.
We compost all our own green waste and use it to fertilise our garden. We yield enough fruit and veg in the summer months for us all to enjoy a healthful meal each day. When it’s warm, we sit at the long tables and share that meal together. We are never short of people who want to work in the garden.
We work in symbiosis with our local community. Our energy comes from the community municipal, the grid is fed from farms in the rural hinterlands and from offshore wind, as well as other forms of regionally produced renewables. We fitted solar on our expanse of flat roof, so we also feed the grid ourselves. We retrofitted passive systems, so we use no energy to heat our homes at all.
Our internet comes from the Community Internet Service. It is virtually free, we pay a small maintenance charge each year for upkeep of the cables and admin for the Service.
We have a food assembly, where items are purchased in bulk from a range of local producers and distributed amongst us to save on costs. Farm to plate is the norm. No food travels more than 30 miles. Most food is distributed through a network of cargo bikes, so it’s more likely grown less than 10 miles away. We eat seasonal produce, we just don’t see pineapples anymore, and nuts are rare, mostly we have hazelnuts, chestnuts and walnuts, I haven’t seen a brazil for years! But that’s all we haven’t worked out how to grow in the Farmeries.
The young people who are into Minimalism came up with the idea of the Farmeries. They stopped buying stuff, and the shopping centres slowly began to close. A group of urban farm activists negotiated to run an experiment in the Queens Arcade, one of the oldest shopping centres, they managed to crowdfund a swanky hydroponics get out, and within months they were producing enough salad to supply all the independent restaurants on the nearest high street. That was just the beginning.
Our own high street is unrecognisable, when I was 40, I remember we had Costa, Tesco, Sainsburys, Coop, Edinburgh Woolen Mill. They are no more. 15 years ago, the local people took back the Town Council, a form of Flatpack Democracy like that which came out of Frome in the early years.
The first thing they did was roll out a huge campaign for shopping local. People just stopped buying from the big names, they left when they realised the town was just not profitable for them anymore. The other thing that happened which changed our high streets was that the Regional Council implemented a long fought for regulation on scaling and multiple ownership.
Profit making businesses were banned from scaling. This meant that the rise of the chains we saw in the noughties was stopped in its tracks. Cafes, shops, services, if you wanted to open a business, you could open one, that was it, no more could one individual own 5 cafes in different suburbs of the city.
This brought a flourishing bricolage of independents to the high streets, it’s aim was to support more social and community enterprise at hyper-local level.
What we have now is a thriving artisan economy. Our local food store is 100% packaging free. You have to take your own reusables. You just cannot buy high fat high sugar high salt processed foods any more, except in the eccentric shops that fill the arcades, most people can’t afford to buy that stuff now anyways. Most people can’t afford to buy anything with Sterling any more.
Since the rise of the local currencies, sterling went out of favour, being the preserve of the uber rich 1%, and as they got outcast, sterling became useless for most people. Now we have the Penarth Pound, it’s basically a digital exchange tool. I get top up on my chip from community work I do, I can only spend this in local places. I also get Citizen’s Income, which I can spend anywhere, a monthly sum paid to every person from birth to death.
The only place where you really see cars these days is in rural communities. There is an exclusion zone around our town, so you can’t drive there anyway. You have to park up and borrow a bike to get near. Our cycling infrastructure is world leading, you think Copenhagen is good, you should see what we have done in South Wales. Everyone rides bikes, it’s just the norm. We have a volunteer run community bike shop, this is where my husband can be found most days.
We have a Library of Things on the corner of every block and terrace, I remember there being a corner shop there when I was a child, now it’s more drills than newspapers. They have weekly repair cafes, so you can go and learn how to fix stuff. We barely throw anything away now. We just mend, and we make. There’s a Hub on the high street where you can go to use facilities to make clothes, there’s 3d printers, you can make anything really. And there’s always someone there to show you how to do it.
Not many people go to work in traditional firms anymore, there aren’t many left… most people spend time on the urban farms, the Hubs where they do skills sharing or in the Sheds, big workshops for making and art and performance and theatre and science and all things creative. This is what the children do as well. They learn more from actually living than they do from sitting in classrooms learning about living. There are always learning opportunities to be had, and they are open to all. Most of the old school buildings were turned into Sheds, they are now centres for learning and adventure.
It’s pretty nice living here. I have time to write when I want and make things, time to be with friends and neighbours. Time to live and grow and connect.
Image credit: ‘The Fifth Sacred Thing’ by Jessica Perlstein