Sneak Peek at Glimpses of Utopia

Article | May 2023

Author JESS SCULLY is a curator who uses creativity to engage people in the knowledge economy and with urban life in the 21st century, working to shape a sustainable and inclusive future. Her latest book Glimpses of Utopia shows us how we can reshape our world to be fair and sustainable. Read on for an extract.


Glimpses of Utopia It’s hard to be excited about the future right now. Climate change is accelerating; inequality is growing; politics is polarised; institutions designed to protect us are strained; technology is disrupting the world of work. We need to upgrade the operating systems of our society. Jess Scully asks, What can we do? The answer is: plenty! All over the world, people are refusing the business-as-usual mindset and putting humans back into the civic equation, reimagining work and care, finance and government, urban planning and communication, to make them better and fairer for all.

Meet the care workers reclaiming control in India and Lebanon, the people turning slums into safe havens in Kenya and Bangladesh, and champions of people-powered digital democracy in Iceland and Taiwan. There are radical bankers funding renewable energy in the USA and architects redesigning real estate in Australia, new payment systems in Italy and the Philippines that keep money in local communities, and innovators redesigning taxation to cut pollution and incentivise creative solutions.

Glimpses of Utopia is a call for optimism. Humans everywhere are rising up to confront our challenges with creativity, resilience and compassion. Harnessing technology and imagination, we can reshape our world to be fair and sustainable. This book shows us how.


What if the future we need is vastly different to the future we’ve been told to want?

What if real progress doesn’t look like driverless cars or hoverboards? Instead, let’s imagine a world in which we value our most human instinct: the drive to care for each other and our planet.

What if we stopped swallowing lines from politicians about what is a burden and what is an investment, and recognised that we have the power to decide how we gather and spend money as a society? We have more than enough money to pay for the generous, principled society that we all deserve, and we can direct our leaders to deliver it.

What if our cities were designed for people, not property portfolios? Let’s imagine our cities as centres of human flourishing: productive, diverse and just; tools of environmental regeneration and social empowerment. The places we live can be designed to unlock our potential to contribute and be part of the solutions we need.

What if we stopped shouting at each other? Imagine a public sphere where we could talk about values and the kind of future we want to build together, a media and civic realm where big decisions could be made deliberatively and collectively.

All of this is necessary if we are to address the planetary-scale challenges that confront us. Despite the enormity of what lies ahead, this book is a manifesto for hope in the face of cataclysmic change. The heroes of our time aren’t working to save the world as it is: instead, in the ashes of the old, they’re building a new world that’s designed from the outset to be fair and sustainable, caring and creative. With imagination and a shared intention, we can be a part of that change and claim that fairer future.

I know it can be really hard to stay optimistic when we’re dealing with a global pandemic, on the verge of an economic recession, and we can see the effects of climate change moving from theory to reality.


Why are we on such a downward spiral?

We’re living in the richest, most privileged time in human history, yet we’re increasingly seeing life get shorter and more unfair for many people. Even as we’re hurtling forward with technology, with better communications and connections across the planet, we’re seemingly taking big steps backwards on the metrics you’d think would matter most. Why?

There are alternatives to the status quo already in motion, but in the noise of our information-overloaded lives, we’re missing out on hearing about and learning from the people who are proving that another future is possible.

Here’s the good news: because humans created these problems, we can also fix them. The even better news is a lot of this work has begun.

There are movements, organisations and individuals in every corner of the world who are modelling alternatives to the extractive and exploitative mindset that got us here, and for the first time in history, they can connect with each other to support and amplify their efforts. In Glimpses of Utopia, you’ll meet some of them and hear their stories, and how their efforts and ideas are shaping a better future for us all. The innovators you’ll meet in this book are many and various: they’re teachers and designers, technologists and researchers, artists and activists, policy-makers and politicians.

You’ll learn about the approaches that unite these diverse catalysts for change, and most importantly, find out how you can be a part of the solutions too. It’s true that we’re living through dark times, but that’s not the whole story. I want you to feel as hopeful as I do that a better world is within reach. But it’s going to take some work from all of us, as both citizens and advocates, to bring it into being.

The challenge that climate change presents is the undercurrent of Glimpses of Utopia – alongside a focus on the inequality that’s tearing us apart – and we need all the scientific and environmental genius in the world focused on preserving our planet. But, as you’ve probably noticed, science and technology won’t do the job on their own. We’ve got plenty of smart tech out in the world, but without the policy changes to fund or enable them, these things stay in the realm of the prototype or the luxury accessory. There is also some exciting big-picture thinking on the economic models we could shift to, from degrowth, an alternative to endless economic growth, to the ‘doughnut economics’ model setting planetary and social boundaries for the economy. Brilliant models and cutting-edge science are important, but they’ll stay on the margins until we transform our social institutions: the way we make decisions, set priorities and debate what we value as a society.

It’s not just about having better models or even compelling examples of alternatives: we also have to have space to talk to each other about them. Our societal conversation – the discourse, or public sphere – is so important because it’s the space within which we can contest ideas like these, put forward competing visions and weigh up what matters. It’s the place – whether metaphorical or literal – where we make sense of the world and talk about the future we want. That space is becoming more splintered and polarised as many people no longer trust the news media or experts, making it harder for a fact-based and thoughtful debate to take place.

You’ve probably noticed a growing number of conspiracy theories bubbling up as people try to articulate what’s wrong with a system that’s not working for many in society. Rather than mock individual theories, let’s try to connect with that underlying, well-founded disillusionment with the status quo.

The challenge right now is to pull back and describe the bigger picture that leads to this feeling of exclusion and distrust. To me it seems essential that more of us make the connections between what can seem like abstract or distant policy decisions and their impacts on our lives. Imagine what could be achieved if most of us could see that there are real alternatives and better stories out there, and that there’s a future that includes us all.

The most exciting innovation right now would be to upgrade our policies, processes and public sphere to serve a 21st-century operating system. More of us have more to gain – or lose – than ever before.ia’

Author: Jess Scully

Category: Society & social sciences

Book Format: Paperback / softback

Publisher: Pantera Press

ISBN: 9781925700879

RRP: $32.99

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