The new city adventure playground
By 2040, the British city will have become an adventure playground. How so? Because three different trends will, we suggest, increasingly converge.
Firstly, the increasing participation in extreme sports, whether that be (ultra) marathons or Tough Mudder events. They used to say that a cathedral defines a city. Now it’s a long-distance running event. The London Marathon, founded in 1981, has grown into one of the biggest sporting occasions of the year - from 6,200 finishers then to 39,140 finishers in 2016. There are now dozens of marathons across the UK in cities. And for those not yet quite ready to tackle the full 26.2 miles, there are a huge variety of lower-distance races for urban explorers to choose from (and train for) – such as the Great North Run or the Glasgow Half Marathon.
Figure 1: Longest distance race in key UK cities
Source: Marathon Runner’s Diary, RunForAll
Secondly, the increasing popularity of parkour, or freerunning. Parkour involves athletic movement through urban space: jumping, running and balancing, often treating the urban environment as an obstacle course. But the definition is somewhat contested – even the official governing body of the sport in the UK is careful to only attempt to define its sporting components and leave the wider mental, theatrical and cultural aspects to others. Those other aspects have become fascinating to sociologists, who go as far as describing it as embracing 'a serene ethos of urban rediscovery'. Its participants are typically young men, and there is an emphasis on calculated risk. For some, it’s rather less serene and more political in the form of extreme urban exploration which asserts a ‘right to roam’ in the city.
Thirdly, the rise of augmented reality gaming, best represented by the Pokemon Go craze. This, and similar games, overlay virtual characters against the real world. The characters can be viewed only in the camera of a smartphone equipped with a GPS. It’s like orienteering or geocaching, but without the physical checkpoints. One reviewer found Pokemon Go rather unsatisfactory in its own right, but spotted its potential to get gamers outdoors and into the real world.
Twenty years ago there were barely any marathons, and definitely no smartphones. If current trends continue (and we see no reason why they won’t), then a boom in more-or-less competitive running, a new sport focused on moving artfully through urban environments, and the potential to overlay a virtual world on top of that urban environment, will deliver a huge increase in the number of people experiencing and playing with the city in increasingly ‘extreme’ ways. Elsewhere we write about running and walking to work; but we might be hopping, skipping and jumping many miles around the city as well – for fitness, for political expression or to spice up an otherwise mundane exercise regimes.
In 2040, you’ll have the city as your adventure playground.