What can be learned by inviting citizens to re-story their cities? This was a question posed by Demos, a British think tank for “everyday democracy.” From my perspective, the most interesting finding to come out of the experiment was the utility of the re-storying process itself. By engaging citizens in creative ways, a diversity of alternate futures to the official bland government and corporate sanctioned ones were developed and fleshed out. It’s a project I’d love to see taken to other cities in the world.
In 2005, Demos published a book titled Scotland 2020 that took as its premise that stories can influence peoples’ thinking about the future. The book contains 5 specially commissioned short stories that aim to inject hope into imagined futures for Scotland.
Whereas, Scotland 2020 features 5 “leading Scottish fiction writers”, Glasgow 2020 aimed to harness the imaginative power of everyday citizens. The project ended in 2006 but the website, www.glasgow2020.co.uk, is still up and running offering tantalizing glimpses of the range of activities undertaken. Demos have also published a book about the project, The Dreaming City, which can be downloaded for free from their website.
Glasgow 2020 aimed to “open up” the future of Glasgow by inviting all of its citizens, including those who had been forced to leave for economic reasons, to imagine what the city could be like in the year 2020. The idea was to get away from the dominance of official speak and top-down future management and engage the masses in acts of imagination and hope. To bring some democracy to futures literacy.
The Dreaming City includes some background to the project– including a brief overview of supporting literature from the area of storytelling in business and organizations–a collection of stories written by citizens, and a set of more policy-oriented outcomes from the project. While all of this is quite inspiring, I was frustrated by the lack of detailed information on the hows of the project. As someone interested in using the concept of re-storying places to aid social change, I was hoping to find detailed information on how Demos went about facilitating these acts of mass imagination.
From the book, the website and a short podcast, I was able to determine that Demos and their partners held a series of workshops with various groups in Glasgow and elsewhere. They held a storywriting competition; some stories submitted to it are still available online, the winning stories are included in the book. They collected wishes for Glasgow and ranked them through a voting process. They held storytelling workshops with many different groups of Glaswegians, faciltitated chatter groups at local cafes, held arts community gatherings, and even relocated offices to a boat on the Clyde. Some of these workshops aimed at developing characters that were then given to writers to bring to life, while others involved imagining a future, populating it and storying it. The Northern Lites event was an example of the latter sort of workshop (it’s web write-up is one of the most detailed reports on events and is well worth looking over.)
Overall, a really exciting project with a lot of potential to re-story cities around the world.