"D’una città non godi le sette o le settanta meraviglie,
ma la risposta che dà a una tua domanda"


(You take delight not in a city’s seven or seventy wonders,
but in the answer it gives to a question of yours.)


Italo Calvino, Le Cittá Invisibili.



An Atlas of


An atlas of


Index of Contents


This atlas is divided into four sections:




The worst possible futures.

In which we mapped all the negativity and fears about the future (to get them out of the way).




What do we talk about when we talk about the future?

This collection of maps explores issues, themes, and ideas about possible futures.



Section 3:

Imaginary cities of the future.

In this section you can explore the cities that have been designed during the workshops.

The Atlas collects the visions of future cities from members of these sectors:



heritage & archaeology

transport & utilities

Information Technology

science & environment


architecture & urbanism





The worst possible futures

A summary of the themes in the discussion:


    • Space in cities will be at a premium because population densities would increase

    • Natural environment features will be reduced

    Much public space will be taken over and privatised, leading to civil unrest

    • Communicable disease will spread without cities’ ‘green lungs’

    • Development will be prioritised over ‘sustainable development’

    • Design and build quality will be poor, ugly and without context, due to short-term planning visions and economic gain

    • Entire neighbourhoods or cities will be built for the enjoyment of a few, then disposed of when styles or moods changed (including built heritage)

    • What small and fragile heritage is left will be trampled on by hordes of tourists

    • Dwellings will be smaller with perhaps some spaces being shared

    • Social interaction will decrease even with increasing sharing and crowded conditions

    • Housing needs will not be met and lack of affordability would be a defining feature



    • Increasing types of pollution in cities will lead to an upsurge in bad health and deaths

    • Increasing traffic congestion and a lack of green spaces will lead to a public health crisis around obesity, asthma or poor mental health


    • Global economic collapse or recession will be a reality. This will manifest in:

    - Unsustainable economic growth

    - Unwillingness to change the current economic situation

    - A lack of diversity in economic investment

    - Chronic poverty

    - Rising property costs, rents and land values

    - Predictability in the retail offer

    - Soaring costs for staple resources

    - The disappearance of retail in its current form (supplanted by a large, black market)

    - Significant budget cuts/increasing costs in the public sector/tourism

    - Education as a business, rather than as learning for learning sake



    Increasing populations will result in:

    • Social inequality and social unrest

    - Increased crime rates and perceived feelings of insecurity

    - Shorter life expectancies

    - Discrimination of certain groups

    Areas within cities might lack a demographic mix

    - Social exclusion for have nots

    - Feeling less safe about going into another area for haves

    • Greenbelt land being built on



    Some sectors saw mobility declining as transportation infrastructure erodes, leading to:

    •  Frequent congestion

    Failures and maintenance attempts

    Increasing physical distances between people

    • No air freight to ship products

    General lack of infrastructure planning

    Other sectors saw mobility increasing in the future:

    • Private vehicles and airplanes will be preferred mode of travel, leaving some groups out of the loop.

    • Air pollution would increase



    • Erosion of social interaction, increase in isolation, loneliness and immobility, especially among older people

    Urbanites will lose their:

    - Imagination

    - Capacity for innovation

    - Vision, spontaneity and instincts for a better society and tomorrow

    Urbanites will continue behaving in the same way as they are now and exhibit less trust in people and data

    • Constant threats of war will result in more invasions of personal privacy, more frequent public security issues and acts of terrorism

    Fear that teachers would lose their autonomy and that students would lose their individuality

    - Fear of failure for both groups would be imminent

    - Public engagement in governance/other matters will suffer



    Some jobs would become undesirable, particularly those jobs that do not require any university education

    Would there be enough meaningful jobs for the growing workforce?

    - People will need to re-train in order to obtain or retain employment

    Teachers would have uninspiring curriculum to deliver to bigger classes within longer school days

    - Using MOOCs, resulting in fewer teachers needed and more instances of cheating


"What will the future look like?"

We asked this question to the participants in our workshops, to understand what are the most important issues and the priorities they are concerned with.


These were the most talked about topics overall:

But while some issues appeared in many workshops, each conversation was different. The map below shows you which topics were more relevant in each conversation. We also tried to make a short summary for each topic.


The size of each circle indicates  how much a particular topic has been discussed in the workshop. It corresponds to the number of comments.


For example:

this topic has only been mentioned once:


this one has been talked about five times:


Explore the maps of the conversations

What will cities of the future look like? How will we live in them?


We asked this question to the participants in our workshops, to understand what are the most important issues and the priorities they are concerned with.


This map provides an overview of all the cities that were built in this concluding activity of the workshop series.



How do I read the map?


boundary of the city

green space

blue space (rivers, lakes, sea)

connections (roads or other connecting infrastructures)


hills and mountains



We listened at the way participants described their imaginary cities and highlighted the themes that are relevant for the Liveable Cities projects as well as additional ones that were recurrent.

Liveable Cities


Other themes:

The city imagined by theIT SECTOR The cities imagined by theRETAIL SECTOR The cities imagined by theSCIENCE AND ENVIRONMENT SECTOR The cities imagined by theEDUCATION SECTOR The cities imagined byARCHITECTS AND URBANISTS The city imagined by theTRANSPORT SECTOR The city imagined byARCHAEOLOGY AND HERITAGE SECTOR The city imagined by theEXPERTS ON AGEING The cities imagined by theUTILITIES SECTOR

Let us know what you think

Create your own user feedback survey

We visualised the conversations through maps that you can explore to understand the details of each issue and how different topics relate to each other.










Click on the sectors' names
to see the maps

At the beginning of each workshop we asked participants to think of the worst possible things that could happen to the city and their sector fifty years from now.

The purpose of this activity was to get rid of all the negative thoughts that could prevent creative thinking about the future.


    Everyone but the retail sector felt that inequality would be a key issue in cities in the future, with everyone agreeing that segregation would increase. Inequality came in many forms.


    At the city and regional scales:

    • Transport funding between cities and regions will be segregated

    • Access to resources within cities will depend on who you were and what you have

    • There will be exclusive zones for haves and have nots

    • Housing will only become affordable for the haves

    • Only the haves will have their voices heard, leading to a loss of empathy for others

    • Greenspaces may be designed, developed and used by haves only

    • Heritage resources could be owned by one group, thereby setting the agenda as to who can access heritage


    At the individual and group scales:

    • Social, community and class segregation will occur

    • Older people will be socially excluded from good access to transport and social networks

    • A digital divide will continue to grow

    • Schools will be more selective, leading to an increase in private education



    Like inequality, all sectors except retail believed that governance would change – or remain the same – for the worse. What was governed and how things could shift was important. Governance will change or get worse:

    Planning system:

    - Short-termism and over-regulation

    - Fostering planning inertia

    - Public spaces/heritage becoming privatised and not well-managed

    - Free market taking over; democratic debate stifled

    Education system:

    - Standardised, assessment-driven education

    - International testing brought in; only ‘profitable’ courses are taught

    - Government controlling all aspects of education

    - All schools becoming independent

    - Less funding for teacher training; Academies begin charging fees

    Pension system: forcing older people out of cities because they cannot afford to live there

    The Internet: heavy regulation stops the free flow of information

    • Government could become increasingly corrupt (e.g., mismanagement of funds, budget cuts to repair the damage)

    - Older people, healthcare, social work, heritage and public works will be hit

    - Could lead to a lack of resources to accommodate the ever-growing populations and technological issues

    Change in governance could be problematic:

    - Too little change is unsustainable for cities

    - Not enough change could lead to indecision

    - Continual change could negatively impact society

    - Boris Johnson could become Prime Minister, leading to a British exit, and a fundamental shift in how the UK is governed



    • Society becomes over-reliant on technology and technological systems

    - We will cope poorly if unable to access technology

    • We might be overtaken by technology

    - Jobs being done by robots, leading to mass unemployment

    - Removing history

    - Less physical contact with people and places

    - Disenfranchisement of ‘digitally illiterate’

    Government will not be able to keep up with the latest technological advances



    All but three of the sectors were concerned about a loss of skills in the future. The sector that appeared most troubled was education. Specifically, it was mentioned that:

    Teachers will continue to work long hours with more duties that lacked creativity and personalisation

    • Education will become more disconnected with the use of knowledge and the outside world

    • Teachers and students will develop unrealistic expectations about what education is about/for

    • Architects and urbanists, and ageing researchers, felt their professions will be undervalued

    • Schools/universities will have to bring in unqualified people to teach

    • Learning and training will become prohibitively expensive in the future

    • Architecture and urbanism could be split into smaller components, with essential skills being lost

    - Other disciplines could be designing cities

    • Increasing burden will be placed on carers to balance work with care, thus losing skills in the profession

    • The Government may not have employees with technological skills to improve infrastructure to make smart cities

    Concentrating tourism in certain areas could lead to skills deficits in traditionally less touristic places




    The transport and utilities, and science and environment, sectors mentioned that:

    • We will run out of affordable energy

    Public discussion around energy will be stifled due to increasingly politicised debates



    Four sectors stated that:

    • Cities will be adversely affected by climate change due to our inaction and ill-preparation today

    • We will experience greater climatic variation and natural disasters

    - This will make infrastructure/other systems inefficient, vulnerable and increase the cost of management and maintenance

    • Lack of urban resilience will have a negative impact on life expectancy


    Cities will experience:

    • A loss of resources to undertake important jobs (e.g., teaching)

    • Resource shortages (e.g., water, energy, food)

    • A lack of adaptation in crops and other staple goods

    • Disputes and wars over remaining resources with other cities

A map of fears about the future.

the themes in the map



We found some recurring ideas that came up in various cities, and we marked them on the map.

 Click to
explore the ideas in the map



What do we talk about

when we talk about the future?



Imaginary cities

of the future



Some extra useful


This project is one of the outcomes of Liveable Cities, a five years UK based, EPSRC funded research projects.

This Atlas has been developed by the Liveable Cities team at ImaginationLancaster,

Lancaster University.

For more information on the research on Visual Conversations on Urban Futures, please contact

Serena Pollastri.


For more information on Liveable Cities and Imagination, get in touch with Dr. Claire Coulton.

Follow us on Twitter:


Serena Pollastri



Liveable Cities