Welcome to Ghent 2040

Welcome to Ghent 2040. The explorers of the future, consisting of the Digipolis Foresight team and researchers at the Open Time Research Center, invite you on a journey into the future. We will travel no less than 22 years forward in time. Of course, we cannot predict what will happen, what choices we will make, what opportunities and challenges await us, or which (un)expected events will shape our environment. Nevertheless, we can reflect on what could lie beyond the horizon of the next few years. Whatever happens, Ghent is making its way into the future through a complex and sometimes contradictory present. These scripts and the accompanying compass can be used as orientation tools. We focus on the technologies that we use for the purpose of working, learning, living, and playing, and that can simultaneously be drivers of change as well as what is being changed.

Welcome to Ghent 2040. Little is still the same as 23 years ago, when over one hundred Ghentian civil servants and dozens of experts looked at how this city could evolve in the coming decades. Then, our starting point consisted of nine themes, which formed the backbone of our exploration. The keywords for these themes were: social city, climate city, mobile city, residential city, entrepreneurial city, learning and creating city, safe and livable city, participating city, city organization.

Welcome to Ghent 2040. Using a horizon scan*, input from thematic experts, a range of future sessions, a conference, and workshops with civil servants from the City of Ghent, we collected the building blocks for four very different images of the future. These building blocks give concrete shape to the future possibilities which we discuss. They are the factors and actors, the facts and functions that were used to build the scripts.

A horizon scan is performed by systematically searching the media and other channels for signals that can help you anticipate changes in the environment, threats and opportunities, which are only scarcely visible today.

Welcome to Ghent 2040. When writing these scripts, we took into account which elements were marked as ‘preferable’ in the whole of activities, working documents, reports, and memos. These elements of a preferable future can be combined in the vision described below:

In a complex reality where digitization and automation keep gaining pace, we strive for sobriety, simplicity, and straightforward connections between existing systems. We aim for solidarity and social contact, meaningful activities, qualitative leisure, and sustainability. Ghent will become a region full of talent and the go-to climate city in Flanders where mobility is a basic right and where people think globally in a co-creative way.{:.vision}

Welcome to Ghent 2040. It is not our ambition to build and present an ideal future here, which would be rather naive. After all, every alternative future contains elements that may be considered either positive or negative, depending on the person reviewing them. We are looking for a range of images of the future that show a spectrum of possibilities. More and less preferable sub-aspects have been included in each of the images. There is no scenario in which everything goes well simultaneously, but part of the vision is always realized somewhere. This allows us to elucidate in a realistic way how different aspects of life in Ghent in 2040 can be given shape to in various circumstances.

Welcome to Ghent 2040. Prospects for technological developments and their applications (from horizon scans and project participants’ proposals) are incorporated into the four scripts. Technological challenges do not form the focus. Instead, we want to dwell on the way in which technology can be used in the circumstances of the different scripts. In any case, technology will play an important role in daily life as well as for policies, especially when a commitment is made to technological innovation, but also when such innovation is weaker.

Welcome to Ghent 2040. The four images of the future that we present here have been drafted according to the principles of the four generic alternative images of the future of the Manoa School, developed by the Hawaii Futures Research Centre at the University of Hawaii2. These images of the future are starting points which should prompt reflection and debate. Therefore, your own images of the future complete the picture. What is your vision? Which of the building blocks can you use to get as close to it as possible? How do you see the role of technology in Ghent over the next two decades?