I wrote this piece in April 1997 for a local environmental residents group of which I was part. After a wide-ranging discussion about the future we wanted to aim for this was a way of imagining how we thought that future would turn out … a way of setting ourselves local goals to achieve. The group has indeed achieved much from wildflower and tree planting, investigating local heritage, adding public art, improving routes to local schools, and the ever-ubiquitous litter-picking (and much more!).
The year is 2020. Mrs Jones is looking after her grandson, George, for the week. We catch her mid-conversation with the home computer …
“… put in our regular order for fruit and veg. I think. Is there anything new in stock?”
“New variety of coloured leaf lettuce and the first of the local new potatoes.” Replies the home computer in a pleasant neutral voice.
“Hmm, well I’ll have a look when I get there. Ask for the order to be ready by ten thirty, I’ll pick them up then, please. Order to the supermarket …two energy-saving lightbulbs. Again I’ll pick them up at ten thirty. Automatic payment of both orders.”
Mrs Jones goes out into the back garden and spies George sitting quietly, apparently transfixed by something in the garden pond. “Come on George, lets go to the Resource Centre now, you can watch the frogs later. They won’t run away.”
“It was watching me, Gran, and blinking. Why do frogs blink, Gran? And sit in ponds all day watching people?
“Er … perhaps we can find out at the Resource Centre. Would you like to go for a walk by the beck to see the birds and wildflowers?”
George looks thoughtful and chews on his bottom lip. “Yes but can we go to the playground too Gran?”
“The adventure playground by the Scout hut, or the swings and slides at the Sports Centre.”
“George’s eyes light up. “Where we went on the evening and saw the hedgehog?”
“Sports Centre it is. Before we go, come and help me put the bottles and jars in the wheelie bin because the bin men are collecting glass to recycle this week. Paper is next week, then plastic. It’s so we can help the environment and save money too, George.”
George nods in understanding whilst putting a bottle on the right side of the bin. They had talked about this at school and he knew all about it, though was a little unsure quite who Mr Environment was and why he controls the world.
Mrs Jones shouts that they expect to be back by one-ish to the home computer, which locks the door as they leave. George holds his Grandma’s hand and they set off down the road.
“Oh look!, wave George: it’s Paul and Susan with the new baby on the bus, those new electric buses are so quiet I never heard it. Would you like to go down town this week, George? Ever since someone redesigned the buses you can get on with a pushchair and don’t have to climb those steps … how we all put up with it before, I don’t know. It’s not often we use the car now that buses are so convenient and cheap.
“Tut, tut, someone’s dropped a sweet wrapper. We don’t get that happening much nowadays. I’ll pop it in the bin at the shops, won’t take a minute. Yes I know all packaging is biodegradable now, but it doesn’t look nice and we can’t have that, can we?”
George shakes his head and starts hopping up and down on one foot, as you do.
They pick up some books and a computer disc at the Resource Centre and set off towards the shops. The street approaching the shops is lined with trees, giving an attractive dappled shade underneath. George jumps from one sunny patch of pavement to another. Mrs Jones waves to a friend.
“Hello David. How are you? Don’t the shops look attractive? Covering them with climbers and putting up some lovely hanging baskets was such a good idea. And thank goodness we don’t need those metal shutters now, they made it look really grim, didn’t they? We’re just off to collect our shopping. Did you have yours delivered today? I thought so. See you later.”
The shopping is all ready to collect and Mrs Jones decides to have some new potatoes as well.
On the way to the playground they see the local policeman, Mr Wilkinson, on his bike and wave. At the Sports centre George rushes to the slide climbing with great glee, and Mrs Jones spots Mrs Thompson, child-minding for one of her neighbours, sitting on one of the benches, and settles down for a chat.
Do you know I was just thinking how little dog dirt you see nowadays. The times when I had to clean our Annie’s shoes when she was young. It’s so much nicer now dog owners are more responsible.”
“Funny you should say that Mrs Jones, because I’ve been sitting here admiring the wildflowers around the edge of the field and thinking you never saw that thirty years ago. And I hear the council save money by having the grass cut just once a year, which can’t be bad? Oh and that reminds me, the home computer tells me Mr and Mrs Peters are having a Garden Open Day. They never seem to do any work in their garden and it always looks interesting. Apparently it’s all down to choosing the right plants and using homemade compost. Everyone is copying because it’s so much easier and cheaper. I’m definitely going, anything that saves time in the garden has to be a good thing as far as I’m concerned.”
They continue, deep in conversation, but each with half an eye on their respective charges.
Meanwhile, George is busy propelling himself as fast as possible, down the slide on his stomach. Acklam is a happy place to be.
Our vision of Acklam in 2020 is of a place where individuals make small, easy changes to their lifestyles, to a more sustainable way of living, and it becomes so comfortable we can’t imagine how we managed any other way.
Looking back, it’s interesting to see the things I got right – the easy access buses, computer speech recognition, ordering shopping online, home delivery of food shopping as well as self-collect, more stocking of local produce (though not as local as I was envisaging), recycling collection on different weeks, environmental education at schools. The Resource Centre in the scene is the local library – it is still open, well used, and has a separate computer room for those without access to the online world; I guess if I were writing the piece now Mrs Jones would have used a search engine of her choice on her phone to find out about the blinking frogs.
Things that will be here soon are electric buses, and biodegradable packaging for sweets.
I didn’t realise that computer information would be delivered through fibre-optics, we did have a police support officer in the area who used to ride around on a bike, but he has long since gone with all the cutbacks due to poor government regulation of the financial services industry leading to austerity. Car use has increased, and the buses are not cheap to use.
Where I think we’ve failed so far have been; attitudes to dropping litter remain unchanged, dog-dirt is still a problem although often now packaged in a small black plastic bag and many more people keep dogs now, the standard of gardening has not improved, and lack of wildflowers in urban areas. And I like to think that now the other childminder could have been Mr Thompson, but I doubt there is a fifty:fifty chance that a childminder would be male.
The shops fell into disrepair and are due be demolished. There is no local playground, but the beck is still there with areas of uncut grass more trees and a few more wildflowers; it’s a much more interesting place to play, though perhaps for children older than George.