PD Smith

Why living in the countryside is not green

01 December 2009 | cities, climate change | 2 comments

Wired JanuaryThe latest issue of Wired UK, "Rebooting Britain", has a piece by me on how cities can help us to save the planet.

It's based on research I'm doing for my next book which explores the past, present and future of cities. Here's a taster:

"For the first time in history, more than half the world's population live in cities: by 2030, three out of five people will be city dwellers. But the British are bucking this trend. The 2001 census revealed an "exodus from the cities". Since 1981, Greater London and the six former metropolitan counties of Greater Manchester, Merseyside, South Yorkshire, Tyne and Wear, West Midlands and West Yorkshire have lost some 2.25 million people in net migration exchanges with the rest of the UK; in recent years this trend has accelerated. This is not sustainable. British people need to be cured of the insidious fantasy of leaving the city and owning a house in the country: their romantic dream will become a nightmare for people elsewhere on the planet."

There's also a great piece by science fiction author Paul McAuley on the technological changes that could make cities carbon neutral:

"From the air, the ideal green city should resemble Mayan ruins poking out of a lush forest. Under the canopy, there'll be densely populated but diverse and vibrant streets humming with every kind of human life. Utopian? You bet."

Read my article here and Paul's here.

2 comments so far:

  1. Invictus_88 | 10 April 2010

    This evening I found your website's URL scribbled into the margin of a bundle of written notes for my dissertation, but I couldn't think why. Your blog isn't obviously relevant to Anarchism, Hakim Bey, or piracy...but then I scrolled down to this article, and the penny dropped!

    Excellent article in Wired. I hated it, actually, but it's the sort of challenging stuff people need in order to get their brains firing on all cylinders.

    A few criticisms;

    Taxing people out of their desires simply means people end up paying more for those desires and develop a(n even) greater resentment toward the government. All 'luxury' taxes prove this.

    Big houses _anywhere_ are less efficient. The imbalance of emissions between urban and rural populations is an argument in favour of more affordable housing in the countryside, not in favour of the attempt to to tax people off their farmhouses and into apartment blocks.

    The top-down thinking of the article suggests a weird dystopian future in which the State can demand that people live where they would rather not, and may only live in those places they want to live if their "jobs require them" to. Madness!

    Taken - however - alongside McAuley's article, it seems more palatable. However the emphasis is clear; if top-down policy is to do any good, it will only be in making sustainable, enjoyable, urban living an attractive, comfortable and exciting prospect.

    _Not_ by yet another tax passed by the sanctimonious hypocrites in Parliament.

  2. PD Smith | 10 April 2010

    Thanks for that. I agree we should do everything possible to invest in cities in order to make them attractive so that people want to live there. No one likes taxes. But they can be a useful tool, as in discouraging people from smoking.

    I agree too that big (detached) houses are generally less efficient whether they are in the city or countryside. However, you forgot to mention the issue of transport. People in the countryside - in big and small houses - drive everywhere. In the city people can walk to the shops or use public transport.

    Also, it is much more efficient to supply people with services in densely populated areas.

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