Empowerment Cities

We are pleased to announce the inaugural theme of the FutureScapes Writing Contest: Cities of Empowerment.

Democracy reigns in cities. It is the one place where the average person can readily seek and gain office, shape major policy decisions, and see the fruit of their efforts in real-time. In his seminal study of why democracy managed to take root and flourish in America, Alexis de Tocqueville observed that local government is America’s schoolhouse of democracy. Because a city so frequently touches the private interests of its inhabitants, and because political offices are within the reach of almost anyone, cities produce citizens with democratic skills, interests, and ambitions.

Yet, this most open and democratic form of government remains out of reach for many. How can a paraplegic woman voice her concerns to her city council over rising crime if there is no access ramp into city hall? How can her neighbor do the same when he suffers from severe agoraphobia?

Speaking of the tight-knit New England towns he visited, Tocqueville saw vibrant local democracy in 1830s America:

“The native of New England is attached to his township because it is independent and free: his co-operation in its affairs ensures his attachment to its interests, the well-being it affords him secures his affection; and its welfare is the aim of his ambition and of his future exertions. He takes a part in every occurrence in the place; he practices the art of government in the small sphere within his reach; he accustoms himself to those forms without which liberty can only advance by revolutions; he imbibes their spirit; he acquires a taste for order, comprehends the balance of powers, and collects clear practical notions on the nature of his duties and the extent of his rights.” 

In the nearly two centuries since Tocqueville made these observations, however, cities have made few advances in their role of creating engaged citizens. Over time this unequal access can perpetuate inequity among citizens, in the provision of resources, and in the very experience of living and working in cities.

For this year’s theme, we ask you to envision how a city, thirty years from now, can create a civic experience which virtually eliminates what today we consider “disabilities.” Further, how might a future City of Empowerment amplify the natural abilities of citizens to enhance the experience of living, working, and governing a city? How might a city create the super-citizen of tomorrow?

We want concrete answers, with substantive details. You may focus on technology, but don’t forget about the political and social realities required to create such a city. We want to see the lived experience through the eyes of your characters. We want  an optimistic view that, nevertheless, allows the reader to feel the challenges, the hurdles, and something of the unintended consequences of creating a city that empowers all its citizens.