FOUR out of live people in Britain live in towns. One third of the population lives in the seven metropolitan areas. Yet our cities are decaying. unemployment is. increasing. and there seems little confidence in the abilities of either politician or planner.
The litany of ills is depressingly familiar. Loss of employment as older businesses close and new firms opt for green-field sites. Vast acres of derelict land combined with the savallovi ine-up of prime agricultural sites. Congested traffic. while new road schemes provide only temporary. palliatives at the expense of gutting local communities and accelerating loss of morale. Under-used and over-expensive public transport.
An unbalanced housing distribution. with people homeless and elderly people rattling around in over-large houses. Almost insuperable obstacles to mobility. Tidal flows of commuters putting immense strains on public transit and transport arteries. leaving business areas dead at night.
Dormitory Situps suffering from "sleepers" omens olved in their communities. Large areas covered with one-class council estates. A general feeling of
impotence to affect the way C0111nullities Lire run, and as a result apathy, resentment, alienation.
Under-financed schools turning out ill-educated ihildren. Increasing Crime and vandalism. And recent events in Bristol and Brixton to indicate the hidden flashpoints in areas particularly hard-hit by unemployment and the government's spending policies, Of course there are good things as well, City life is exciting. It still attracts people from the country. But it is generally true that the quality has declined over the last few decades. however much people's personal circumstances may have turned for the better.
Unless people can be activated and involved, any renewal project — however well intentioned — is doomed to failure.
It is easier to involve people if they five in a humane ,environment. Put them into a faceless tower block and it is not surpris
ing they do defacing things. Live in a place where you feel insignificant. and you will take unresponsive local government for granted.
Local government needs to get people on its side, and it is also necessary to be more aware of likely future trends. Far too -many mistakes have been made through assuming that the future will be a mirror image oldie past. Yet we can be reasonably certain that the population will stabilise, although decreasing family sizes and increasing numbers of elderly will demand more small houses and more desigated old people's accommodation.
Energy scarcity will encourage conservation both in construction and in modes of transport. New information technology is likely to allow more people to go about their business without leaving home.
With political will and some awareness of future trends. it is' possible to think of acting to rejuvenate urban areas with some hope of success. The starting point for a thriving urban area must be its source of income. This will usually involve some industry. since industry is the primary' source of the wealth that commerce and services tap.
The problem is that as oldfashioned industries decline or go bankrupt. new companies head for the hills. Nissan has opted for South Wales, not Linwood. And pace Shurnacher, it takes a lot of beautiful small businesses to replace one large company.
We are used to the sight of massive unemployment in Third World cities. Merseyside and Tyneside are suddenly not too different, Even new Large plants tend to be capital-intensive rather than labour-intensive and it makes sense to site them away from the centre, if they are dirty and unpleasant.
Many small firms make perfectly good neighbours. We must get away from zoned ghettoes for different functions. which create unnecessary demands for transport. People want access above mobility. Put industry,-commerce, homes and leisure facilities into the same neighbourhood and you create urban communities with all their political benefits. You also encourage pedestrians and cyclists as against problemcreating motorists.
Efficient transport is also neeeasary, and grants for rail sidings and canals should be encouraged rather than the worst option of urban motorways.
The most important thing is that we make our cities into decent places to live. Hundreds thousands of people who will follow us will neveribrgke us if sae bequeath them dull dreary and dirty towns and cities.