London 2121 Where Do the Children Play?
London 2121: by Alan Marshall & Nanthawan Kaenkaew
At the height of the hippie movement in London, during one of the city’s economic boom times, musician Cat Stevens, now known as
Yusuf Islam, wrote the song “Where Do the Children Play?” in which he reflected on the idea of progress, including in his hometown
of London. In the song, he laments the hubris of economic and technological development, especially in the form of skyscrapers,
at the expense of the simpler things in life, such as places for children to grow and play.
Many years later, the United Nations set out to describe the features of what they believed would make a “child-friendly city.” Such a
city, they declared, would allow kids to:
(1) meet friends and play,
(2) walk safely in the streets on their own,
(3) enjoy green spaces with plants and animals, and
(4) enjoy equal citizenship within their city.
Future governments of England will probably like to make a big fuss about these laudable goals in front of various international
forums, but there’s a real risk that, in the London of the coming decades, urban children will be worse off than they are today. Sure,
the children of the rich will still be able to access private spaces to play with their toys, but both rich kids and children of less well-
off families will find the cities of the future an unnavigable confluence of uncrossable roads and overdeveloped private buildings.
In the London of the late twenty-first century, it might be that public parks have been ripped up to make way for corporate
skyscrapers while inner city schools are allowed to degrade and decay.
Sometime during a future economic downturn, the government in Westminster will likely declare that it can’t afford to maintain
public parks anymore or keep paying for all the state schools. By 2100, life in London may lurch toward the Dickensian when
London kids line up for five hours on the first Monday of each school term to collect vouchers that afford them subsidized classes in
rundown schools under the instruction of poorly paid and poorly trained teachers.
The quality of life for pensioners, who do not begin retirement until the age of seventy-five now, has also plummeted as cutbacks in
pensions take effect, the government having declared that it can’t afford to pay for all the pensioners either. These two groups, the
children and the elderly—both considered the most honored and protected segments of society—become marginalized.
Until, that is, a series of events brings them together in 2121.
On a summer afternoon in 2121, the reigning English monarch—let’s call her Queen Maria— takes an evening walk with her
granddaughter, Princess Morag, to care for the roses in the Tower of London garden.
“What’s inside the castle, Grandma?” the child asks. Grandma, the Queen, explains that inside there are just a load of jewels and such
“What are they doing there, Grandma?” the girl persists. And Grandma continues to explain that they do nothing but sit about
“Oh, why can’t we use them to grow more gardens and flowers, Grandma?” the girl pleads. The Queen laughs and suggests
that people do not appreciate flowers and gardens anymore.
To this, the child says, “You can teach them to, Grandma, just as you’ve taught me.”
This conversation would have drifted away with the scent of the roses had it not been for two other events happening at around the
same time in London. First, as a response to UN criticism that England has not done anything to fulfill its obligations to children, the
London Council grants voting rights in its elections to all children ten and older. Second, Grey Power protests, comprising nearly a
million angry pensioners, close down the middle of London for months on end. Because it is summertime—and school is out—the
grandparents among the protesters bring their grandchildren along, and as a united front they also stake out a right to free lifelong
Because the protesters have closed the streets to traffic, the city’s air quality improves dramatically. This does not go unappreciated
by most of the other residents of London, nor by the hospitals, which notice far fewer admissions related to respiratory problems.
The Grey Power protests then assume a Green hue, as environmentalists gather with the grandparents and grandkids to
support their cause.
With the government holding fast to budget cuts, the protestors must pursue a radical solution. They convert eight square miles of
central London into a massive eco-village, transforming unoccupied offices into residential buildings, sowing gardens on street
corners to grow their food, and setting up small, sustainable businesses to trade among themselves. They also invite all children of
London under age twelve to come and learn these skills for free as day students, sending them home to their parents in the evening.
Thus, London 2121 is born, a place where children can learn and play in a Green environment and in safety. The plan is that no one
between the ages of twelve and seventy-five may enter London 2121. Also, no authority figures are allowed to enter London 2121:
no parents, teachers, police, or politicians. Traffic wardens are welcome, though, and are popular figures, for they jauntily ensure
that no cars can drive in the village.
To make sure the area is secure, the Queen donates physical portions of the Tower of London to surround London 2121 with an
Surprisingly, the rest of London leaves them to it, for a combination of reasons:
- The Queen and her young princess, Morag, are enthusiastic about the whole plan, since both of them are within London 2121’s
age limits (and they would welcome some help with the rose garden).
- Many of the children in this part of London have the right to vote in the local government elections, and they all vote thatthe
London 2121 plan is perfectly legal and logical.
- The whole arrangement ends up providing free day care and free education for tens of thousands of families while saving the
government a load of money, since the large financial burden entailed by pensions and education has been relieved.
- The children trained in London 2121 acquire real-life skills from a vast pool of super-experienced and enthusiastic teachers,
such that their education ends up being highly valued.
As well as all this, there’s a centuries-old precedent of a similar “in-house” pension scheme just across the River Thames in the Royal
Hospital Chelsea, where scarlet-coated Chelsea pensioners, retirees from the army, are given free room and board and free health
care for the rest of their lives. The hospital was set up by King Charles II in 1682, and Queen Maria will be darned if she can’t at least