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The future for Kiama; will it be utopia or dystopia - or a bit of both?

October 20, 2020

by Mark Whalan

Kiama residents are up in arms over the recent bulldozing of a heritage home in Thompson Street Kiama. Horrified locals took to the streets and social media, asking how such a tragedy could happen.

Part of the concern is the genuine fear of Kiama's unique character slipping away in the Year of the Pandemic 2020. Where normal values and society are feeling like a giant iceberg, slowly, but unavoidably, rolling over as an unseen asteroid slowly approaches our fragile planet.

The great fear is of Kiama finally being swallowed up, as countless cookie-cutter outer suburbs sprawl across the landscape. As blocks full of units, Gold Coast style, lacking any character, annihilate the unique character that not only adds amenity and lifestyle for the locals but also earns money for the town both from tourism and the backdrop it sets for the film industry.

Gold Coast style blocks of units for Kiama? Image supplied.

What will Kiama be like in 20 years? Or 50 years? Let's take a look at future Kiama in 2040 and then in 2070. Don’t be sceptical, have fun; and who knows what is possible. No one would have predicted that in 2020 global tourism would come to a sudden full stop.

To me, there are two very different paths, the path of utopia and the path of dystopia; one where we allow greed and outside interests to define what happens, the other where we plan and control our own destiny, like many towns and cities around the world have.

There is a kind of science fiction that isn't really fiction, where the future is clear, and with planning and purpose brought into reality. It's a kind of future-wishing our whole civilisation has been built on, a reality where you can imagine a society that is gentler on its members, gentler on the earth and smarter in its economy.

But it's a utopian vision as well, which says all problems have a technological solution and that isn't actually true.

When I was 11, I remember buying one of my first-ever books with my own money, Alvin Toffler's Future Shock, which I have next to me right now. This story is my future shock here.

KIAMA UTOPIA IN 2040

Tourists scale the North Bombo Quarry stairs as part of the Grand Kiama Walk and patiently wait at Bombo train station for the self-driving local bus to arrive, as drones flying overhead deliver coffee from local cafes in reusable mugs. One hundred per cent renewable energy has arrived in Kiama with robust solar panels covering the car park at the Kiama Leisure Centre, providing easy charging for electric cars. The manufacture of fossil fuel cars stopped worldwide ten years earlier, in 2030.

Local grocery stores have 3D printers in-house to print orders. Laboratory meat is 'printed' onsite too. A new suburb has grown up in the Bombo quarry, known to the locals as Bombo Heights. It has a conference and concert centre that can seat 5000 and is surrounded by innovative and much needed low-income social housing, all built by the council. 

Taking the European model, French-style apartment squares, also much loved in San Francisco, facilitate real community living, with vegetable patches, communal spaces and shared gardens. And it includes an entire new aged care village. Virtual audiences are as crucial as real audiences with live streaming placing the Kiama Virtual Hub as part of the Global Internet Consensus. 

Universal Basic Income has arrived, and young people are encouraged to create their own jobs rather than seek jobs that don't exist. Holograms projected from a watch phone offer tourists local information, and Daisy, the Kiama cow, answers questions using her interactive voice. Daisy has gained the ability to nod her head; as befits our local genus spirit animal in paper and fibreglass form. Daisy might even be a hologram herself!

Daisy the Kiama Cow. Image: Phyl Lobl

Tourists enjoy buskers and local-style food and drink at the blowhole, Kiama-style keto butter coffee with Kiama-style hot chips with pepper and vinegar, and why not try the 'vertical hotdog' invented by a local butcher over 20 years before!

In the centre of Kiama, Terralong Street alongside Hindmarsh Park is now an open plaza. People park their share and rental cars in the paid council car parking space in Akuna Street. Groceries are available from the Kiama whole food cooperative or, alternatively, 3D printed at the big grocery outlet store.

The beautiful Kiama we love, blowhole, lighthouse, beaches......... Image:kiama.com.au

Recycling efforts channel local basalt from building sites like the Blue Haven aged care centre in Bonaira Street, and from levelling the floor of the North Kiama quarry, into local buildings, retaining their unique character and reflecting our heritage. Indigenous rangers are employed to take care of our parks, where careful management returns threatened species from the brink of extinction. 

Like Art Deco was revived and preserved, the Kiama style of architecture, known as Classical Revival, is now the 'required facade' for all new buildings, and film crews can regularly be seen in Kiama using these authentic backgrounds. 

Jobs are easily found at the Port Kembla hydrogen hybrid car assembly plant, or the algae farms in and around Jervis Bay. People who are 80 are as fit as when they were 30, with new teeth printed from their own cells and cancer is curable. Local language is taught at Kiama High and young people use local indigenous words as colloquially in everyday speech as Maori is used in New Zealand. Kiama is fully dementia-friendly with robots playing simple carer roles for many independent-living seniors.

Local schools have embraced remote and self-learning with students able to create their own path for education, a path that almost always leads seamlessly afterwards into paid earning. Pedal taxis provide local jobs and a fun guided tourist experience.

An innovative ocean tourism experience is available with an open glass restaurant on the booth of Kiama Harbour and guided underwater sub tours for the braver. There is even a giant slippery slide into the ocean near the blowhole, nostalgically patterned after the old Kiama Rocket that used to stand in Hindmarsh Park. Catch an all-electric train past Bomaderry and stop at the many Jervis Bay stations. Cash has disappeared.

For every utopia, there is a mirror dystopia.

KIAMA DYSTOPIA IN 2040

In the Kiama Dystopia of 2040, it is a much darker future where around 34 cm in sea level rise has taken much of the beaches away. Regular flooding events on the Minnamurra River flows into houses in Kiama Downs. The Kiama blowhole roof has finally fallen, and the blowhole itself has failed, shutting down a significant tourist attraction that brought much revenue to businesses in Kiama.

Tornado drills are held regularly in schools, and recently tsunami drills have begun, even for local community groups. Doors that filter outside air are as normal as fly screen doors. A big hotel has arrived on the point next to the Kiama Lighthouse, a stranded asset that failed after the blowhole collapsed and the tourist boom stopped. The Great Barrier Reef is dead.

Sweltering days are much more common in summer, as is general sweaty humidity. Social distancing, hand sanitising and even mask fashion has been normalised since the pandemic of 2020 as many other pandemics followed through the next two decades. Rich people are adding an underground level to their houses which becomes the main living area.

Kiama artist Ken Tucker - Escapism. http://www.artistkentucker.com.au

Bushfire smoke from giant state-wide fires is a common sight in summer.

High rise apartments line up along the coastline, and heritage buildings are all gone, replaced. Kiama has become another groaning dormitory suburb of the megacity of Greater Sydney. Jamberoo Valley is filled with houses, and Gerringong and Gerroa have lost their small village status and become just the outer dormitory suburbs of the City of Kiama.

There are no more dairy farms, all built over for housing. The town is overcrowded, insular and poorer.

The divide between the rich and poor is stark, with a welfare state teetering on collapse. Australia is a much poorer country. A cold war between China and the United States occasionally flairs into open warfare, making trade with China impossible.

KIAMA UTOPIA IN 2070 

Fifty years from now is a long time away! Where will we be? Greater longevity and health means living a century has become common, with newer generations expected to live until 150.

Kiama has strengthened its unique cultural identity into a brand as recognisable as anywhere else in the world, Kiama-style food and design exported around the world!

Moon bases at the Poles have arrived, exploiting their ancient frozen water.

Augmented reality in the form of extra content holographically projected all around you by your phone, like the HUD in a fighter plane, is normal.

A circular, steady-state economy has arrived, home fabricators replacing recycling by breaking down unwanted items and 3D printing them into new items. Cycling and walking become normalised, with air walks above the old freeways providing quick and easy access. The Kiama Walk now has submarine tunnels as well as elevated high air walks. 

Amazing shot, could be Utopian air walking...... Image: kiama.com.au

The Kiama Lighthouse can project light directly into near orbit, making our location perfect both for satellite viewing and virtual remote viewing.

Expanding the town through underground levels for shopping centres, public buildings and social housing has become easy and normal, with the removed bluestone a valued building asset in itself. Discussion of a new suburb expansion under the sea is now actively discussed.

Australia is now part of the Pacific Union with New Zealand, and state and local government have been abolished and replaced by local, regional governments.

Capitalism is gone, replaced by more sustainable economics, where people create their own jobs on top of their Universal Basic Income and Job Guarantees.

KIAMA DYSTOPIA IN 2070 

Society and the economy are under increased stress and near collapse. Our natural areas are now completely gone, removed, built over, as the old villages and rivers of London have been in the past.

The air quality is such that wearing breathing masks outside is normal, and 'no go' days are declared regularly in summer when it is simply too hot outside to survive!

Air quality has been below national standard for one in every seven days this year.
Image credit: Brook Mitchell

Some communities have now invested in completely enclosed hemisphere domes to regulate heat and air quality!

Abandoned and even collapsed buildings are commonplace in the main streets with families here for generations moving onto newer places. 

The Kiama blowhole has been filled in, and Kiama Harbour concreted over, making way for urgently needed slum housing and to create a breakwater wall to stop rising seawater entering the main town centre.

Life expectancy for the majority is low as new longevity science available to the wealthy is expensive and out of reach for the poor. 

About 60 cm of sea-level rise has arrived. 

What will our future world bring?

While a collapsed society Mad Max style is unlikely, a society that is poorer, more uncertain and where the children and grandchildren of today will live without our security and certainty, is.

The future is uncertain. Who would have expected global tourism to come to a complete stop in 2020? The future of Kiama will be what we all shape it to be.

I for one am fascinated to see what 2040 and 2070 will actually look like! Most likely the future will be a bit of both - some dark, some light; the best, the worst and the completely unexpected. 

Mark Whalan grew up, was educated and lives in Kiama, where his mother helped found the local museum the Pilot’s Cottage and his father was editor of the local newspaper the Kiama Independent.  Mark operates the @kiamablowhole Twitter account and the Kiama Local History Weblog and has worked locally as a journalist and a roleplay designer.  He currently is a full-time carer.  

Mark Whalan's often scary, very sobering predictions while drenched in humour and of a time far away, raise real issues and real possibilities. 

We welcome your ideas, views, fears and vision for the future. Whether it's your town, your region, country or perhaps a global or societal perspective, we would love to hear your story. Please email editor@newbushtelegraph.org.au to find out more. 

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    6 comments on “The future for Kiama; will it be utopia or dystopia - or a bit of both?”

    1. Well done Mark,I am pleased to have read it and yes we are at the crossroads.I see a growing inequality developing and you have provided some insightful solutions for discussion.

    2. Thank you Mark for this great article. I enjoyed working with you on this cheeky futuristic but unfortunately all too true vision of the future. I too hope it is the utopia version and that Kiama works together as a community to achieve that outcome.

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