The Children of Today Will Build the Cities of Tomorrow

When you tell people that 51% of us live in cities, and that we are adding the equivalent of a city the size of Seattle to the planet every four or five days, they are usually surprised and often react with shock and even despair. When you then tell them that one in six people in the world lives in a city slum, and that at the current rate by 2040 it would be about one in three, they react with even more unhappiness. This tells us something about people’s attitude to cities, and particularly their inherent fears.

The fact is, however, that cities are the natural result of an intelligent, technological civilisation. If you tell people that they have to choose between a world of the above statistics or their computers, TV’s, pharmaceuticals, hospitals, books, air-conditioning, cars, fashion, life after dark and international cuisine, they are often struck as if for the first time by the dilemma. The comfortable civilisation that we are building exists only in tandem with urbanisation. You cannot have one without the other.

The filth, crime and pollution that one often associates with the city, is in fact, simply the by-product of civilisation, as we know it. The time is well due that we must try and exchange our out-dated view of the city as a dirty, dangerous and polluting addition to civilisation that we could do without, for a more honest and clear understanding that we are a city building, and primarily city dwelling species. The truth is that we are dirty, we are dangerous and we are polluting. The city has been a scapegoat for far too long, and this denial will become more dangerous than anything during the coming years.

Just as the city has been a scapegoat, so too have been the slums. Slums are a natural, integral, functioning part of any city. Just as a rich person can enjoy a slight and relative increase in vitality by moving to the city, a poor person often enjoys a dramatic increase in living standards and day-to-day hope, by moving from the impoverished rural area that most likely had nearly killed them because of its depleted resources, to a vibrant, community-centred and innovative city slum.

We are dirty, dangerous and pollute because we have not yet adapted to having good planning and governance in this new industrial and highly human-populated world, not because we have cities. In the same way, poverty exists, and a vast majority of the world, rural and urban, are without health care, good education and the kind of comfort the rich take for granted, not because we have slums, but for the same reason: We have not yet adapted the type of planning and governance that our new civilisation requires.

By 2050, at the best current calculations, cities will house 75% of all people on Earth. The safeness, equity and pollution of those cities will determine the safety, equity and pollution of the world. The city is not the problem; its filth, crime and pollution is merely a reflection of our slowness in adapting the intelligent governance and technologies that we need. While it is then, wrong and dangerous to consider cities (formal and slum) a problem, it is extremely beneficial to view the cities of tomorrow as the solution to the world’s big challenges, poverty, climate change and emerging diseases.

If we want a clean, safe, moderately equitable and un-polluted world without rising pandemic risks and accelerating species extinction then we must design, build and adopt a new adaptive system. This system must augment regular evolution (far too slow for the current times), and enable us to see the world clearly for what it is and what it can be, not through old eyes that fear change, but through new eyes, tuned to hope and all that is still possible to gain.

I believe that if we want to inspire improvements in today and inspire the next generation to take up the challenges of today, we must endow them with at least the tools to create a realistic vision of tomorrow’s cities that can systemically manage nine million people, rising sea-levels and scarce resources. This vision must be able to imagine tomorrow’s cities as catalysing the new agricultural, transport, building, energy and industrial technologies, as well as the new economic systems and governance that are needed to safeguard the future of ‘life from Earth’.

These innovations seem so unlikely to occur when we consider the lethargy and egoism of human nature and the slowness of traditional evolution and through the lens of the past few hundred years. Yet, clear, realistic vision is essential for successful planning and change.

Is a new vision for tomorrow’s cities, then a waste of time? I would argue not, for two reasons: Firstly, what good alternative is there, in other words, what do we have to lose? Secondly, the likelihood of these innovations occurring dramatically increases when we view the future not through the lens of the past, but in relation to the extraordinary changes that are already occurring in front of our very eyes. There is no doubt that the future is mysterious and unpredictable. If tomorrow’s cities are outside of this planet, under the ocean or in a newly renovated or broken eco-system on this planet, if they are equitable and disease free or painfully dying, the only thing we can be certain of, is that what they will be lies in the hands of our children and grandchildren.

More precisely, tomorrow’s cities lie in the hands of our children and grandchildren’s imaginations, creativity, scientific and technological creative fluency, their fluency in global community, their tolerance, connectedness and objectivism, and their enthusiasm to succeed. The most urgent thing we must do then, is create a safe and fun global network for our children, rural and urban, that allows them to build this vision together in the fastest, most intelligent way. It has never been a better time to disrupt the habitual flow of our civilisation toward an increasingly malfunctioning urban future, through the next generation of pre-pubescent children.

It has never been more critical to creatively engage children in addressing urban issues and imagining the cities of the future. In a world with vast unpredictability of the future, the enthusiasm and ingenuity of kids aged around eight to twelve, is largely a wasted global resource. Ten is a powerful age, when kids are intelligent but not yet distracted by puberty or steered away from their creativity by school. With a third of the world being kids, it has never been a better time to realise their ingenuity and enthusiasm as a crucial global resource. The children of today will build the cities of tomorrow.

The difficulty is balancing a realistic, practical and achievable vision with flexible future-orientated vision. Generally, the ten year olds are better than adults at the second part, while adults are better at the first. If what is needed is a good balance, then this global network needs to bring the experience of adult professionals together with the imagination of the kids.

The TEN Project’s answer to this need then is to start developing competitive games accessible online, by mobiles, through radio and physical dispatch, by rural and city kids and ‘featured professionals’ in safe registered groups.  The city kids can be inspired by the possibilities of their environment while creative opportunities can be brought to kids outside the cities. Through these games, these groups can network and share cross-cultural, cross-linguistic media creations directed at science, technology, and urban issues, and together build a vision for tomorrow’s cities.

Our first on-line game design to be tested for 2009 is called “Mega-City Hero”, is currently with programmers, and we plan for it to be online for a closed network of test groups in February 2009.

The game is designed to work as a safe social networking device that enables eight to twelve year olds in OST (Out of School Time) groups at libraries, schools and museums around the world, to join forces in imagining their desired future cities, and get involved in innovations to expedite those cities.

MEGA-CITY HERO

“Mega-City Hero” is a game about cities for kids around ten years old to play in after-school groups around the world.

When today’s ten year olds are fifty, the cities they will build will house about 75% of all people on Earth.  Our vision is to bring about significant innovations in the long-term health of tomorrow’s cities, by engaging today’s kids in that global challenge.

With “Mega-City Hero”, real professionals involved with science, technology and urban policy and reform, can inspire the kids and the kids’ creativity can earn them points, prizes and self-empowerment, as well as inspire the professionals.  The game has three clear goals:

  • To be the principle source of children-centred inspiration and children-generated content on the future of our cities.
  • To be the world’s largest global OST (Out of School Time) science & technology network for eight to twelve’s.
  • To enable the kids who play it to realistically envision themselves as innovative professional scientists.

Mega-City Hero is a bespoke multi-platform (card, online and mobile) game that works within a safe social networking community.  In this competitive game, players vie for the top spot on the leader-board by responding creatively to daily “Missions” which are posted online by their peers and participating professionals.  Players progress through levels in an ongoing, rolling social media adventure that can be adapted to the needs of any OST group.  The game is overseen by OST leaders in a secure online site, which doubles as a global network for OST groups.

Mega-City Hero has a story world based around ten mega-cities chosen because they face many common issues associated with urban environments and growth:  The cities are São Paulo, New York, Mumbai, Mexico City, Lagos, Dhaka, Karachi, Shanghai, Jakarta and Tokyo.

The first card-based iteration of Mega-City Hero was tested with an OST group in São Paulo in May 2008.  The next iteration (card-online-mobile) of the prototype will be tested throughout 2009 in select English speaking test groups, with a rudimentary Portuguese version for some groups in Brazil.  The final product will be available globally, and we aim to continue adding different language versions, as resources permit.  The TEN Project is also conducting market research with OST groups internationally and preparing business plans for sourcing seed funding for prototype development, evaluations and improvements through 2009 and 2010.

Management Team and supporters:

The TEN Project is a social enterprise lead by John Tattersall and Therese Fingleton. John is a seven times EMMY nominated cinematographer and has filmed many commercially successful shows including sixteen episodes of US TV hit “Survivor”.  Therese is a new media producer and ICT consultant with over a decade of experience in Europe, Australia and Central America and a background in community development and developing programs for after school groups.

The TEN Project has extensive international support and an informal advisory group including award winning games designer Matt Costello, former Blair cultural advisor Sir Ken Robinson, corporate development specialist Dr. Annette Gebauer, Veronique Pittman – green entrepreneur, philanthropist and co-chair of the Museum of Natural History’s Environmental Lecture series, and Nicole Yershon, a senior executive from branded content specialist Ogilvy.

We welcome expressions of interest in partnership and investment from web, mobile and games developers, media networks, science and technology industries, government and the museums sector.  Join The TEN Project network on Facebook, watch it unfold via regular vlogs at www.thetenproject.org or email the team at thetenproject@gmail.com.

TEN presents Mega-City Hero

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