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‘How will you be living in 2050?’ That’s the question I have been putting to the future leaders of the design professions. The Integrated Design of the Built Environment Masters at Cambridge attracts mid-career architects, planners, engineers, surveyors, landscape designers and project managers. In a week-long design studio they learn how to design cities that will be fit for purpose in 2050, when, in this country at least, we should have decarbonised our economy by 80%. They must imagine what life will be like in a year when they themselves will be contemplating later life.

Over the past five years what has been wholly striking is that the students, who come from all over the world, all imagine that all of us, not just older people, will have a better quality of life and one in which space and other resources will be much more shared than they are now. They reached this remarkable consensus through on-line research and taking time to think together about the future. What they also say is, ‘we never ask ourselves this question in our work today’. That means our cities are obsolete, even before they are built.

This seminar series has been special in providing time for academics, designers, community groups and others to meet and think together about the knowledge we have already accumulated and to understand its implications. They have started to work more creatively with co-housing, a platform for social organisation and the co-production of space that has a really vital role to play in developing new models of urban and rural living.

Co-housing is an opportunity to co-design a very different and necessary shared future. It is one of the few sources of housing innovation being driven by ‘the customers’; people like you and me who, in the normal course of events, have no say in housing policy or the way the housing market works, or doesn’t work.

The UK Cohousing Network is truly grateful to the ESRC and the wonderful team of researchers in, as well as all the seminar participants, for creating and filling this valuable thinking space.

Perhaps the most valuable outcome is the building of networks of people wanting to make change happen.

Stephen Hill
Chair, UK Cohousing Network