Wales in 2051

Skills that made Swansea a nature and people-friendly city  

In the second instalment of the Welcome to Wales in 2051 vision, we introduce our next fictional character, Adi, who paints the picture of living in and creating a thriving city.

A day in the life of Adi 

What struck Adi immediately as she stepped outside her office building to meet the news correspondent was his unfeigned fascination with his surroundings.

The news correspondent was astounded to find himself walking through what felt like a small forest, a stark contrast to the highly industrialised area of Swansea he had known experienced 25 years earlier. He couldn’t help but share his amazement, talking animatedly for another five minutes about the innovative urban designs that supported climate resilience he had witnessed around the city. It was only then that he realized he hadn’t introduced himself yet.

“Adi”, she replied with a smile, extending her hand for a shake.

Building sustainable infrastructure with people and nature in mind

She welcomed him inside her office and explained the features and construction of the building, run 100% on community-owned renewable energy – meaning that all citizens and businesses in the local area co-own a solar and hydro plant that supplies the whole neighbourhood. In fact, most of Wales was now organised to foster greater collaboration, ownership, fair power and resource distribution between local communities and private and public sectors. Adi explained that her area’s surplus energy was primarily sold to companies in neighbouring nations, and the money gained was invested in community projects that enriched social life and improved transport and infrastructure systems following nature alignment principles. Investment decisions were collectively decided, overseen by a body of elected local representatives and community staff, whose salaries were also paid for by the profits of the energy surplus.

She looked over at the journalist and saw that he was frozen in his note-taking, forgetting to write down what she was saying. She chuckled and went on to tell him her role as someone who helped retrofit the streets of Swansea to create people and nature-friendly urban hubs with bigger, safer and thoroughly connecting transport lanes. This includes great amounts of green spaces, more public seating areas, and more rain-covered outdoor hang-out spots with play and sports areas for kids and adults alike. The infrastructure has been developed to ensure that all necessary daily needs are reachable within a 20-minute walking or wheeling radius – an ambition first set out in the early 2000s. The large amount of shared, accessible communal space has made the transition to reduced private space easier.

A shift for car sharing options and efficient and reliable public transport using clean energy had begun when growing public dissatisfaction had reached its peak with rising financial costs for transport and fuel, staggering pollution in the air from transport pollution negatively affecting public health, and excessive congestion from an increasing number of lone drivers. Efficient public transport connects different areas across Swansea. Making transport in its various forms accessible, reliable, and safe has contributed to 93% of the Swansea population cycling, walking or using public transport to get around the city. This transition, alleviating a lot of car parking, has freed up more space for transport lanes and the nature-inspired drainage systems that are needed to cope with the changed rainfall patterns.

For a moment, they are both quiet while Adi lets him absorb all the information. He squints as if thinking hard and finally shares an observation comparing other European cities he has travelled to with Swansea (the first Welsh city he has arrived to), saying that he has in fact, noticed that many more individuals, families and groups of friends spend more time outdoors in the urban green spaces and hangout spots. They look happier and healthier.

Collaborative and integrated thinking

“What enabled this transition?”, he asks.

Adi took a deep breath and explained that the current presence of an environmentally resilient infrastructure across Swansea has, in large part, been enabled by a shift in attitude towards an experimental and trial/error approach that was made possible by a collaborative effort of local knowledge, the latest technology, and historical resources. Citizen assemblies worked alongside engineers, builders, policymakers and ecologists. This hands-on collective intelligence led to clean air, a more active lifestyle, and greater environmental resilience due to nature and culture-inspired solutions. This was important because the effects of changing climate were still real. Still, thanks to collaboration and innovation across the city, the built environment could adapt to flooding/overheating/drought with much less disruption to daily life than had been initially feared.

During a tour of the office, he is introduced to Adi’s colleagues, who reveal an excited and happy attitude to work. They tell him about a flexible work week that gives staff enough time to recuperate and be more creative and energetic during work hours. They express the joys of a supportive work environment that empowers workers to grow their skills, knowledge and networks in a relaxed, full of plants office environment. He is pleased to hear that they all receive a fair wage that ensures that they can meet their own and their families’ needs (and recreational activities) while they are ensuring secure working conditions and safety. Adi explained that these favourable working conditions got put in place following the Welsh Government’s Guide to Fair Work which has now been in operation for decades.

One question that remained unanswered was how Adi came to develop and obtain her skills. But to find out, he first had to meet her parents, who were key to developing her learning mindset.

Learning mindset with intercultural roots

After shadowing her day at work, they crushed through the city by bike and were hit by the fresh evening breeze. Looking over her shoulder, Adi saw her new journalist friend grunting, sweating, completely out of breath, trying to keep up with her. She slowed down apologetically realising that he probably wasn’t used to regular cycling.

Upon reaching her parents’ apartment 8 minutes later, she offered him a glass of cold water while he, drenched in sweat and struggling to get a word over his lips, introduced himself to her parents. Adi’s father laughed a loud, heartwarming belly laugh. “That’s why I always insist on leaving 10 minutes before Adi to not end up like you”. Adi’s mother apologised on behalf of her family and offered him a seat and a spread of homecooked food that she had prepared for his arrival. Humbled and surprised, he accepted appreciatively. The food was traditional Zimbabwean cuisine from recipes passed on for generations, while all the produce was locally and organically Welsh-grown, as famers had embraced new crops and practices compatible with the changed climate. He couldn’t remember the last time he had such flavourful and nourishing food, so he relished every bite and, for a time, completely forgot that he was there to continue interviewing Adi and her family. The bubbling conversation around the table made him feel welcome, and only when Adi’s mother brought up the topic of agricultural drought being a considerable issue in Zimbabwe due to climate change contributing to their decision to move to Wales 40 years ago did he reboot and remember to ask questions. He learned that Adi’s parents had owned a large plot of land in Zimbabwe where they had grown all sorts of grains, vegetables and fruits. Their generational farming practices had mitigated a lot of the drought. They had become local leaders and experts for other farmers who had neglected traditional forms of farming and consequently experienced more agricultural drought. A movement for traditional farming practices had risen in the country. Yet, many neighbouring countries, still relying heavily on commercial farming practices, were struck by drought and were significantly affected by poor agricultural output. This reduced the supply of food globally, raising food prices to unimaginable levels even in Zimbabwe and creating a race to procure food, especially from high-income earning countries. Yet, this shift in the economic landscape determined Adi’s parents’ decision to move to Wales while they still had enough money to afford the expensive journey.

With his mouth still half full of roasted, seasoned green beans, the correspondent asked why they had decided to come to Wales and what the move had been like. With a heavy heart, they explained that it had been terribly hard to create a new home in a foreign country and to adapt to a different culture but that the familiarity with a family friend already living in Wales had made the transition easier. Besides having existing ties with loved ones in Wales, their choice for Wales was also rooted in the reasoning that they had to move somewhere further north to be further away from the impact zone of extreme weather conditions. Now their expertise in climate resilience and farming had positioned them as lead advisers to executing green transition plans in Wales.

Adi continued the conversation by saying that as a kid, her parents would always tell her stories of how they responded to drought and the associated agricultural challenges in collaboration with their local community in Zimbabwe. Hearing these stories growing up is what drew Adi to work with climate resilience in the infrastructural sector and become a voice for ethnic youth’s inclusion in the green transition.

Lived experience and intergenerational knowledge

She recognised early on that for a holistic transition in Wales to happen, it needed to welcome all ethnic groups, so she applied for a Leadership academy open to young people with a connection to Wales. The academy focuses on integrating technical knowledge with creativity, indigenous worldviews, and empathy to ensure that participants from all walks of life can develop solutions fit for this and the next generations. The academy produced exceptional talents that went on to teach, farm, care for the elderly, rebuild cities, use local energy, work in hospitality, planning, governance, and so forth. The principles behind this programme, which was started back in the day by the Future Generations Commissioner’s Office and had become mainstream in further education was one of the best investments Wales had made. The principles fostered by the Academy and similar projects recognised the wide range of skills in young people and helped preserve folk knowledge through intergenerational learning experiences.

After a delicious dinner, Adi and the journalist again go through the chilling evening breeze on their bikes. At 6:30 pm, she reached her home in a nature-inspired apartment complex where she would babysit her neighbour’s 11-year-old son, Cameron, for a few hours.

 Follow Cameron next week to learn about education under a green transition and the eco apartment complex he and Adi live in.  

How can we develop and use the skills needed to create a 2051 we are proud of? Join Karolina and Camille for three free online Green Skills events on 14th, 21st, and 28th May.  

Wales in 2051

In this mini-series, we follow six characters as they explore sustainability, working life and community in Wales in 2051

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