Thursday, July 24, 2014

Development

Futurist James Martin’s Historic Bermudan Isle

The tiny Agar’s Island may very well be the oldest “private island” in North America. Now, this unique isle is home to a man who has made a fortune predicting humanity’s future.

The Independent UK has published a fascinating article about the visionary educator and futurologist James Martin, who owns the four-acre Agar’s Island, Bermuda. Martin was one of the earliest predictors of an internet-style communications system in the 1970’s, and built an empire by sharing his vision of the coming computer revolution with business executives across the globe.

Agar’s Island is found just offshore of the Bermudan capital of Hamilton, and may arguably have the longest provenance of any private island on the North American continent. It was first acquired in 1613 by its namesake, Sir Anthony Agar; a British investor and real estate speculator who, by all accounts, had no intention of actually setting foot on the property.

A place of such great history is an interesting choice for a futurist who has made his career peering into the decades to come. To put it in perspective, Agar’s Island was privately-owned a year before the marriage of Pocahontas to James Rolfe in the Jamestown settlement, and three years prior to the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock.

Until Martin purchased the island in 1997, it was a utilitarian place – it spent the 19th century as a covert outpost for the British military, and is still littered with the ruins of stone-walled barracks and deep vaults that once held one of the Empire’s largest stores of gunpowder. In the early 20th century, it had a stint as Bermuda’s first aquarium and oceanic research centre, but this was destroyed by a hurricane in 1922. Much like the island’s first owner, Martin bought the property sight-unseen. He had been unprepared for the wildness, the vast thickets of casuarina that had to be attacked with machetes before the island could be walked.

Four years and several million dollars later, he had his retreat –a large house in the colonial style is surrounded by guesthouses, tennis and squash courts, and a swimming pool. The history of the island has been well-preserved:  arriving guests are greeted by the old 19th century dock house, and the military’s stone latrine now serves as a home for his carefully-cultivated orchids. The island looks out onto a scene of immense beauty; cradled in the curve of the Great Sound, panoramic views of Bermuda’s green isles are found in all directions.

Martin amassed the fortune that gave him this enviable lifestyle by looking forward, and has donated much of it to helping others to carry on his work. He recently made news by giving additional funding to his institute at the University of Oxford, largesse that now totals approximately US $150M. The program’s very worthy mandate? Studying the problems faced by humanity in the 21st century. The multi-disciplinary school uses leading academics to tackle 30 diverse issues including ethics and governance, commodities shortages, and climate change.

The 21st is, as Martin has said, a “make or break century.” We stand on the cusp, he believes, of success or failure as a species; of paramount importance is identifying the issues that will swing this all-important pendulum. If his institute allows the world’s leading minds to gain insight and understanding of what humanity must confront, it is a valuable legacy indeed.

Read The Independent article here>>

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