Alexander Rusanov, Coordinator of the “City Future Imaginarium”, a winning project of the Forum for Young Professionals “Europe Lab” – 2017, reflects on the project results:
The team of the “City Future Imaginarium” conducted a study examining imaginations of the future of our cities. 94 persons from 12 countries were interviewed via an online form. Most of them represented Russia and Finland and were residents of big cities.
The structure of the questionnaire consisted of two parts. In the first part, respondents were asked to describe the city they live in, identify its strengths and weaknesses, value urban environment and propose measures for its improvement.
The second part was devoted to the future: Respondents were asked to describe an ideal city of the future, choose a modern city that best corresponds to this description and determine the main aspects, which are necessary for the sustainable development of cities.
After processing the questionnaires, the following results were obtained:
1) Large cities located in different countries have more in common than large and small cities located within the same country.
2) Both large and small cities, regardless of the country, have number of common features described by respondents, which can be divided into positive and negative ones:
· The positive characteristics of large cities include high wages, good employment opportunities and wide variety of leisure and entertainment venues.
· Among the main negative features of large cities, respondents distinguish air pollution and poor environmental conditions, traffic jams, overcrowding and high levels of stress.
· Within small towns, the situation is reversed: Favourable ecological situation, friendly environment and measured rhythm of life are the main positive characteristics, but unemployment, lack of cultural and recreational activities and boredom are negative characteristics that force people to leave their hometowns and seek for job opportunities in larger cities.
3) Respondents all over the world especially respected the nature – sea, lakes, green areas of their cities/towns, would like to have more green areas and their towns/cities to be cleaner. Following this line, they disliked pollution, traffic jams and waste. Some residents of Russia also mentioned lack of local administration’s efforts to improve the urban environment.
4) In general, people like their home towns. Overall evaluation on a ten-point scale is 7.3. The average estimation of smaller towns is lower than that of larger cities, which may indicate that the economic well-being of people is more important than the environmental situation.
5) A certain image of the ideal city does not exist. Often it is situated in the same country where respondent reside. About 14% of respondents from Russia could not name any ideal city/town, whereas respondents from other countries did. St. Petersburg is most often mentioned as an ideal city among Russians (10 votes). Moscow, Berlin, Dubai won twice less votes. It looks like that in people’s imagination there is a list of cities that seem comfortable to live, even if they have never visited them. London, Los Angeles, New York, Oslo, Prague, Singapore, Sydney, Tokyo are just a few of them.
6) Most people are focused on the problems and, whilst talking about an ideal city of the future, look for a way to solve them. Only a few respondents used their imagination: In their questionnaires, we can read that the future cities will be inhabited by robots, cars will fly and people will not have a special need to get out of bed.
7) In open comments, some of the respondents noted that they had difficulties with the second part of the survey, because they did not fully understand the meaning of the concept of sustainable development. At the same time, they mentioned such aspects of sustainability as safety, stability, innovations, reduction of corruption, increase of job opportunities, migration control.
Simultaneously with the survey, a number of educational workshops were held in Moscow that were aimed at the development of environmental thinking among students of various educational institutions. Students of the Department Of Economics at the Moscow Power Engineering Institute got familiar with the business game dedicated to finding the right strategy for the mining company. Students of the Department of Geography at the Lomonosov Moscow State University took part in series of environmental simulation games. As a part of events dedicated to the Earth Day, educational game workshops on waste management were carried out at the School No 2054 and at the Moscow Station for Young Naturalists. Representatives of both schools and higher education institutions noted a high potential and effectiveness of gamification as well as a high interest among the students.
We believe that the necessary condition for a sustainable development of cities is involvement of their residents in this process and their interest in improving the urban environment in the long term. It is possible to draw their attention by means of education as well as by carrying out thematic seminars and workshops. Educational work with younger generations is especially important. Development of ecological thinking, fostering the culture of sustainable consumption can become an impetus that motivates the younger generations to think more about the ecological problems and to actively participate in the creation of a comfortable urban environment.
The results of the project showed that the “City Future Imaginarium” might be used for raising the environmental awareness in educational institutions and other interested organisations.