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City Fictions is introduced to people in Manchester by a fictional newspaper set in 2018 and inserted in 130,000 copies of the Manchester Evening News.

This morning, Mancunians awoke to find a new near future city unveiled before their still sleep filled eyes.

130,000 copies of a special edition of Manchester Evening News carries a design fiction supplement. The cover page shouts “THE FUTURE CITY OPENS ITS DOORS”, “MAKE YOURSELF INVISIBLE”, “FANCY A CHAT WITH A LAMPPOST?”, “THE FUTURE OF DATA AND SPORT”.

People across Manchester leafing through this fictional newspaper set in 2018 were introduced to a hair and makeup salon offering free anti-surveillance and facial recognition makeovers, a new museum presenting objects from the future rather than relics from the past, and street furniture and city institutions that chat to passersby.

The lead news feature announces that a slice of central Manchester has been annexed by the people for a new social experiment, called City Fictions. An article dated March 28, 2018, reads: “Four years ago, Mancunians mobilised to imagine and build a visionary new city, which formally opens to the public on the weekend.”

This fictional city is real (how to find it). It is a part of the FutureEverything festival, presented in a new city square and surrounding buildings in the NOMA neighbourhood in Manchester. City Fictions contains a full series of speculative prototypes and design fictions, each one giving an experience of the future in the here and now. “Some of these ideas would have seemed fanciful when first mooted in 2014, but now they are there for us to try out and see,” adds the lead feature.

The centrepiece of the City Fictions supplement is content from a fictional newspaper on the future of data and sport by Near Future Laboratory. This is one part of Winning Formula, an artwork commissioned by FutureEverything, National Football Museum and CCCB in Barcelona.

The newspaper cover image is of anti-surveillance hair and cosmetic styling by designer Adam Harvey. This is a real design project, in the here and now, framed as a commercial salon. On the centre pages, are speculative prototypes by Fabrica and James Bridle of anti-surveillance wearables. City Fictions combines the real and imaged, each of which provide an experience of a near future, one which is around the corner, or already close at hand.

Reader with newspaper

The newspaper is an artwork in its own right, and also gives an overview of the programme. Commuters on the 86 bus from Chorlton alighting at Piccadilly Train Station, and on any number of arteries into Manchester were given subtle hints that the daily newspaper is a work of design fiction. Some will see through it, and use the paper as a guide to the festival weekend. Others may still be on the bus come Monday, pondering the early arrival of that strange thing called the future.

Meanwhile in the NOMA district of Manchester, the near future city is ready for visitors to arrive over the weekend. Complete with street signs, sentient city institutions, architectural interventions, the launch of a citizen data sharing platform, and 30 art and design projects and workshops.

City Fictions draws on powerful currents in design today – notably, design fiction and speculative design – that use objects and video sketches as tools to to pose questions on the future. In City Fictions, these design fictions and artworks are presented at city scale in a ‘festival as laboratory’. This is design fiction in the wild.

If you are unsure what is real, what imaginary head down to City Fictions on Saturday 29 and Sunday 30 March to encounter the future. What to do at City Fictions listed here. How to find to City Fictions hereWinning Formula is an artwork by Near Future Laboratory commissioned by FutureEverything, National Football Museum and CCCB in Barcelona.

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