In 2013, I heard that some groups were putting together a vision of what Reading could be in 2050. Four years later, a large glossy document has been released with much fanfare. And my only response was to ask: Is that it? How can a group of such well-resourced, intelligent people create a vision that is so superficial?
Don’t get me wrong, wanting to see more green spaces, community allotments, and arts venues is a good thing. They are things that I am so passionate about that I have worked with people to turn one of my Churches into a theatre space, and my parish hall garden into a community allotment. These things do make a difference, but they need to be a part of a bigger picture. And the bigger picture of Reading 2050 is the biggest flaw in the document.
Whether the writers meant this or not, this comes across as a vision for the wealthy, the connected, and those who do not struggle with physicial and mental difficulties. According to this docuemnt, by 2050 Reading looks like it will be the City of the Ubermensch, Nietzsche’s hideous view of the Strongman who will run the world. It is a view of a town in which the economically, socially, and culturally disenfranchised and unpopular will be marginalised to such a degree that they will be invisible. Perhaps some will say ‘Thank God for that,’ except you won’t be able to say it in a Church, only in a listed historic building that once was a Church, because obviously we’ll have grown out of all of that faith nonsense by then.
I find it completely incomprehensible that this is the best vision of the future of Reading. Loneliness, isolation, and mental health are impacting more people of all ages than ever before, yet there is nothing in this vision about the necessity of togetherness and how that will be enabled. There is nothing about holistic health care, and actually, there is nothing about care full stop. This vision looks at Reading’s current economic status, and simply draws an upward line toward more and more unfettered economic growth. Without any mention of what such ‘growth’ costs people and their communities, if indeed such growth is possible.
The document wishes to have a future in which cultural diversity is celebrated, but has no idea how to enable that to happen. Why would it, when the Reading of 2050 has no mention of enabling unity in difference. Important to this are the interwoven philosophical, political, and religious beliefs that exist around the world. If people are to arrive in Reading from across the world, bringing with them the gifts of their own cultures and faiths, we need an already-existing culture of togetherness that will invite them into the heart of the communities of this town, not force people into silos.
Perhaps the writers of this document can attempt a mark 2. Or perhaps this document can actually act as a catalyst to all people and groups from across the town to find a way to come together and explore an alternative future. A future in which loneliness and care is given at least as much attention as wealth and leisure. Perhaps this could be a moment when we ask how to create a more active culture of togetherness in our town.