The question of the future of our cities is recognized as one of the most urgent of our time. By 2030 there will be ten million people living in London. How sustainable will this future London be, economically, environmentally, socially? Policy and planning agendas have long identified the challenges of urbanization, population increase and climate change, and fierce debates are emerging about the possible direction to be taken by local, state and transnational policy makers. The notion of the ‘smart’ city already seems old hat: a fantasy of better living made possible by ‘big data’ collected by sensor networks and wearable technologies that became sinister after the revelations of Edward Snowden. A more radical agenda for the Future City is emerging out of a burgeoning awareness of the extent to which political promises of economic growth and a prosperous, consumerist culture, rest on fundamental ideological commitments to widening inequalities and increasing alienation and fragmentation, locally and globally. Will the city of the future be ‘our’ city? Will it be sustainable emotionally, as well as economically? How will it be run? How will future technologies help govern future cities, and will this governance make cities more human places, with an empowered and responsive citizenry?
EastLife in part manifests UEL’s commitment to civic engagement because those of us working in London’s East, at the most socially diverse higher education institution in Europe, recognize that we have a critical role to play in helping shape the future uses of the city we inhabit. Current accessibility agendas, and the social and entrepreneurial ‘incubation’ funded by government, are driven by the need to develop skills as identified by the job market. If Future London is to be sustainable, such work is vital. But what about the democracy deficit endemic in such schemes? Is such economic ‘incubation’ equally available to all?
EastLife is important, innovative and relevant because it offers new ways of harnessing the creative skills of East London students to liberate the perspectives and stories of East London elders. If Future Cities are to be politically sustainable, such work is critical in offering models for empowering the voices of citizens. The creative and cultural economy is vital to the sustainability of Future London, and is currently worth over £21 billion to the capital. UEL’s graduates will be a vital part of that creative sector. But as ‘STEM to STEAM’ initiatives gain ground, there is a growing recognition that the arts and creative sector is valuable not only for providing economically important cultural commodities and services, but for the insights and methodologies it offers to industrial design, policy making, and infrastructure planning. EastLife is just the beginning.