Not that long ago there were people that lived in an area of 25 square miles all their lives. Their world was longer than ours because everything over the horizon was unknown and only existed in the stories that visitors told.Like the universe is to us, their world is infinite. When we talk about the world 'growing smaller', we are not only talking about time shrinkage but also in terms of reduced mystery.
Today we pass through places without stopping. For years my knowledge of Milton Keynes was restricted to the view from a train.
From here, the view always has the potential of being fantastic, which the reality could never live up to. The opposite can also be true.
Slowly, though, our level of fantasy is being diminished by an ever-increasing dose of reality as we move around the surface of the earth more frequently. Some places become liberated by this ease of travel. For example, Spain is much better now than 40 years ago because people hop over it as they travel 'long haul' to far-flung places. Increased mobility has changed our relationship with the idea of home. Our choice of place to live has become a more significant element than our choice of location of employment. We are in control of our chosen area, whereas increasingly our place of work is less certain. This uncertainty has governed many people's choice of place to live to the point where access by car to the rest of the country is a prerequisite.
Northampton, Milton Keynes, Peterborough etc are inhabited by a large number of people who are prepared to drive anywhere in connection with their work. These places and others like them are centrally located and well served by the highway network. Distances are the same as they always were but times are perceived to be dramatically reduced. The home on this context is the place of retreat often only reached late into the evening and departed from in an obscenely early hour.
In spite of this brief habitation, the house is full of technological gadgetry which is never used and imported interior design ideas culled from lifestyle magazines. The neighbours rarely speak to each other except in the case of dispute. These are bad communities that do not function, leading to dysfunctional children that become a drain on non-existent local authority resources.
These are the people that threaten the recommendations of the Urban Task Force.
They have invested in their location and their house and no new policy is going to budge them. They add to pollution by driving excessive distances and are blinkered by their lack of contact with 'the new', 'the cultural' and 'other people'. Their views become ossified and, ultimately, regressive, which promotes a lack of courage, imagination and entrepreneurialism.They are the medium- to long-term economic problems for the UK as they only try to minimise risk. The market-ledstyled homes sporting names such as 'The Cotswold'or 'The Sheiling'are swallowing up the vast tracts of Green Belt as they immolate their owners from reality. Their cars have evolved stylistically and technically and yet if these were sold at the same values as their homes, they would not be seen dead in them.
These people will always exist, and we cannot pretend they do not. I propose a Rural Task Force that begins to explore more sustainable and socially engaging models for the future. There needs to be a contribution from architects and urbanists to change the way in which we inhabit the countryside in a manner that admits to the fact that people do have a choice, and that living in cities is not achievable, or indeed desirable for all.
WA, from the Concorde lounge, JFK