When we think about the future of our cities we often imagine a dystopian, dysfunctional Bladerunner scene. With this in mind it’s not surprising that many plan for the idyll of escaping to the countryside. But shouldn’t our cities be as relevant and pleasurable to older people, as they are to the young professionals drawn there? This morning at the Future of Cities debate, speakers challenged the audience to be more optimistic: cities can change for the better if they put people in charge.
Echoing the government’s proposals for decentralisation and a Big Society, Doug Saunders (author of Arrival Cities) set out his vision for regenerating cities based on autonomous, self-governing neighbourhoods. Based on his research into immigrant neighbourhoods in cities around the world, he believes that, rather than regulation and grand plans for our cities, the people that live there should be freed to create their own social and economic paths.
Put simply, it’s the people and their networks, rather than big business and big government, that should shape cities. If you want to open a shop in your front room you can, you shouldn’t have to battle the planning and trading regulations to do so. The messages seem to point in the same direction – if you want your community, city even, to change then it’s over to you.
At the moment older people are less likely than younger people to feel they can influence local and national decision-making. But there are already ways you can take control. Our new Change One Thing campaign for instance can help you make your neighbourhood better. Take a look, we’re going to be supporting local groups of people in later life to campaign to make their neighbourhoods better.
But there was still a word of caution. An audience member at the debate reminded us that one man’s heaven is another man’s hell. The question still remains: can we all have what we want?