'The future is a date, but it is also a story about our lives today – present, but unevenly distributed. It is on page 37 of a discarded Sunday colour supplement wedged into the back of your tube seat. It's the yells that echoed in the underpass after the pubs threw everyone out last night. We're all looking for chipped shards of futures in our own ways, in our own places.'
— Charlie Tims, collaborator.
Following a video appeal and letter-writing campaign, we assembled a heist-like team that included a biotechnologist, a policy advisor, a permaculturalist, an educator, a retired civil servant and an architect. Their mission? To imagine optimistic, collective expressions of our futures, today.
Produced in partnership with the London Design Festival, Arts Council England, and the Watermans Gallery, the 'Power of 8' was our attempt to devise a radically collaborative, DIY approach with which to imagine alternative futures. Intent on building a public discourse around the aspirations of ordinary people, we worked to reconcile the diverse perspectives of participants, looking for points of conflict and consensus between disciplinary perspectives and worldviews.
Another approach to thinking about our more immediate futures was triggered by this simple question: What would you like on the street outside your house?
Our blank sheet was soon full of possibilities and ideas – from 'a friendly transformer walking by', to street orchards and consensus tools, it was our collective street of the future. But this exercise also surfaced conflict as we struggled to understand each other’s visions of the future. How were the individual identities of participants affected by such a collaboration? How do we move towards a unified group identity in achieving a vision, a world – and is this even possible?
With an abundance of ideas and trajectories, how could we work to build something together, a proposal for a place we want to live, a part of us, not a perfect consensus, but something messy and complicated that gives us hope. So each of us drew our own pathway or trajectory through this neighbourhood or ‘town’, marking ideas along the trajectory that particularly appealed. We were making our own journeys of this map of the future, almost as a stream-of-consciousness.
We dubbed this method 'post-psychogeography', where the derive is reverse-engineered. Instead of drifting aimlessly through unknown cityscapes, we have plotted a route through a psychogeographic territory of our own making… with yet unexpected consequences.”
Here is the central map of our 'post-psychogeographical' wanderings, showing where our ideas travelled and our paths coincided. Taken together, these ideas suggested an exciting collective vision, with an interesting balance of lyrical realism and enchanting ambiguity. Each of the participants took their individual paths, comprising a string of words like 'public spaces, a waterfall, neighbours you can talk to and so on... and drew illustrations and wrote stories around it.
Along with these workshops, we walked the streets of London, wearing signs such as this, and interviewing people about their hopes for the future.
To test some of our ideas and open the process to outsiders, we ran a wider public engagement workshop in Brentford, inviting participants to build their own aspirational futures using lego and foam. This public engagement formed part of the London2012 Open Weekend.
These public engagement activities highlighted concerns around climate change and a deep-seated nostalgia for a ‘green’ world, as residents of Brentford mapped their aspirations for orchards, big parks, solar airships and snow simulators on the large table, building their ideas with LEGO.
Project's process map:
The above diagram shows how we evolved our collaborative process. Outcomes from these activites were formulated in the proposal for 'Acres Green'. The Acres Green project page gives more details.
This was an experiment that brought together the creative potential of curious people from various disciplines, bringing them into contact with the wider community – those who share in the lived experience of the city and its infrastructure – to produce a collective expression of the future. The project was always conceived of as open, a starting point, and these ideas have continued, in various venues, with team members finding new collaborators and spinning out new projects and processes.