James Fletcher is a Social Science, Health and Medicine research student at King’s College London. He saw off competition from some 70 entrants to win the ESRC’s writing competition, The World in 2065 – in collaboration with academic publishers, SAGE.
The competition, which marked the anniversaries of the ESRC and SAGE, asked PhD students to creatively write about their vision of 50 years from now.
Read James’ winning article, City Inc, below:
On 12 February 2015, I moved to London to begin my PhD. During my subsequent 50 years as a sociologist studying and living in them, cities have undergone momentous transitions. This brief history charts their recent prosperity through the story of London – a tale of decentralisation enabling visionary corporate finance and social science to recast the physical and socioeconomic architecture of cities.
Listen to ‘City Inc.’ as read by Lucy Berrington.
I arrived in London just as the social sciences were beginning to develop the approaches that would ensure their success, focusing on practical impact, interdisciplinary collaboration and corporate involvement. I moved into the borough of Tower Hamlets, London’s economic powerhouse, with an economy worth £6 billion annually and a young population where more people had been born in Bangladesh than in the UK. This wealth production, youth and diversity was representative of London more generally. Conversely, the rest of the UK had a faltering economy and an ageing conservative population with increasing immigration concerns. Thus, London and the UK were diverging. 2015 also saw unprecedented election gains for the Scottish National Party, triggering increased devolution to Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and some cities. Strong SNP election performances in 2020 and 2025 forced the government to offer federalisation in 2027 to avoid a referendum on secession. Eventually, on 12 December 2042, England, Wales and Northern Ireland were also federalised, mirroring a global decentralisation trend.
Amidst decentralisation, London continued to grow, steadily gaining devolved powers. As 2043 arrived, the city I had moved into 28 years previously was unrecognisable. From the 900 metre high tower where I now lived, I surveyed a transforming cityscape, embracing recent technological developments.
This began back inn 2022 with Saudi Arabia’s Kingdom Tower, the world’s first kilometre-high building. Besides technological innovation it also had profound cultural implications, with a range of social science consultants having pioneered community creation models. Under their guidance, its 5.5 million square feet of floor space offered offices, malls, accommodation and even artificial forests, stimulating a self-contained society with a culture of independence. Twelve years and four towers later, Kingdom City was a thriving metropolis of 2.1 million people. It represented a triumph for private finance and social science collaboration, setting a precedent for socially conscious corporation rule with minimal state involvement. Kingdom City prompted numerous equivalent developments throughout the Middle East and Asia in the late 2030s; social theory-informed, self-contained and privately managed. These ‘express cities’ dealt with population problems and boosted economies with ease, vindicating social planning.
With an immense housing crisis and a ballooning population shackled by construction regulation, London was desperate to emulate these eastern successes. It turned to its collection of world-leading institutions, including internationally renowned social psychologists, human geographers and many more, to plan groundbreaking reinvention. Throughout the 2040s, backed by multinational finance, London set about implementing this vision. Whilst primarily based around sociological community-seeding housing ideas, it also facilitated a transport revolution.
London already rejected cars, instead championing cycling and enjoying an unrivalled underground system following four Crossrail projects. Driverless electric vehicles had been increasingly present since the mid-2020s as battery technology improved. By the mid-30s London proposed banning all human-driven petrol-fuelled vehicles, but the UK government was opposed, concerned that decreased fuel imports might jeopardise Gulf State relations. By the early 2040s London was powerful enough to press ahead. Again the social sciences, bolstered by increasingly successful corporate ventures into city design, were instrumental in infrastructure planning, embedding the belief that public and corporate desires for liveability and efficiency were compatible. As a result, in 2053 the last human drove through the city. Simultaneously, influential internet scholars drove a complete 5G rollout, providing unparalleled internet access. in contrast, large parts of the rest of the UK still lacked 4G, creating a national digital divide. The scene was now set for divorce. In 2056 the government accepted a federalisation referendum. On 4 May 2058, London voted to become the UK’s fifth state.
Today, whilst technically federalised, London is essentially sovereign. Since the early 2050s state involvement has been nominal, particularly following parliament’s relocation to Manchester. London, like many traditional capitals, now is more similar to the Martian colonies than the nation surrounding it. These old nation states, largely unaltered from 2015, are increasingly inferior, especially as Space X’s mines and hydroponic innovations further improve city living standards. Social science’s guidance of private capital has enabled Jakarta, Doha and many more to smoothly transcend state structures, each now existing as a well-organised corporate amalgamation. This change is evident in my current work. Whilst trickle-down economics and stringent immigration controls have all but ended real-term deprivation, inequality remains entrenched. Employed by London Inc., who are concerned about barriers for talent, I am currently developing proposals to stimulate social mobility. This is just one example of how corporate-social science synergy is cultivating prosperous city societies in 2065.