Manchester could inspire space mining, moons called Levenshulme and planet Chorlton, says futurist

By Ana Hine

What does the future hold for Manchester? What would the city be like in 50 years time? Or a hundred?

Tom Cheesewright is an applied futurist.

His company, Book of the Future, helps companies anticipate future changes in their industry. So MM asked him how Manchester might transform over the next few decades.

Originally from Woverhampton, Mr Cheesewright used to come up to Manchester in the 90s for the club scene and moved up here in 2005 from London.

“Overall I think Manchester has a pretty bright future,” he says. “There remains a strong spirit of innovation with lots of interesting businesses starting up and creating employment.

Mr Cheesewright discusses how ‘the future’ is already a lived reality for some, citing how cafes are used as work spaces for a floating population of freelancers and white-collar workers. Yet 20% of UK households still don’t have internet access.

“There are people in Manchester freelancing for companies around the world, sourcing work and getting paid online,” he says. “While other people are in a very traditional 9-5, working in a shop or making bolts or biscuits.”  

The 35-year-old thinks that retail shop fronts will disappear, replaced by more city-centre living, working and social spaces. In the suburbs the pace might be slower, but we’ll start to see more solar panels and eco-features being used as installation costs fall.

Looking further ahead Mr Cheesewright, who now lives in Levenshulme, speculates that the area could inspire space colonists. In the same way as many of the first American cities were named after European ones and retained some of their characteristics, he sees no reason why whole star systems couldn’t be named after Manchester.

“Why should we settle for a colony when we could have a whole system named after us?” he says.  “Then the planets and moons could be called Levenshulme, Chorlton etc.

“Human beings have always pushed boundaries and in this case we’re going to be pretty motivated. The global population is likely to crack 10 billion before it starts to decline, and with climate change eating up land mass, we’re going to need the space (if you’ll pardon the pun).”

He envisions the first colonies as being little more than mines, oil rigs and manufacturing outposts for refining minerals. Asteroids are probably, he thinks, more likely to be the first locations for long-term industry lead colonisation projects. 

“This sounds far-fetched,” he says. “But there are already well-financed plans to send out robot miners to collect asteroids and bring them into orbit for mining. This could be happening in the next few years.” 

If space-mining proved profitable,  Mr Cheesewright thinks that the people would follow.

“Manufacturing in zero gravity has all sorts of advantages, and you have ready access to energy from the sun, so there will be plenty of work,” he says.

However, he doesn’t think people will seriously colonise planets like Mars for a while, since its inhospitable environment makes basic survival requirements – like maintaining crops for food – incredibly difficult. 

In terms of climate change Mr Cheesewright jokes that the weather isn’t going to improve. He explains we can expect major storms and floods, though without proper preparation uneven rain distribution will – paradoxically – lead to droughts in summer.

His advice is for individual Mancunians, as well as Manchester City Council, is to invest in home installation, renewables, waste reduction and research into new technologies to deal with global warming.

“The world doesn’t seem to be responding to the threat with anything like the requisite level of urgency. Sadly I don’t think we will respond with sufficient force until more people start dying,” he says.

“Manchester has always been a city of innovation. There’s no reason some more of the technical solutions to this problem shouldn’t come from here. But I think it’s too late for science to avert the problem altogether.” 

Picture courtesy of Bruce Irving, with thanks.

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