Academy of Urbanism inaugural Scottish event

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Academy of Urbanism – inaugural Scottish event

The Changing Geography of Everyday Life in Britain, 1950-2010
Lecture by John Lord, at the Summerhall in Edinburgh, Wednesday 5 June 2013

A+DS has supported the inaugural event of the Academy of Urbanism’s Regions & Nations Network in Scotland. John Lord’s stimulating lecture about the changing geography of everyday life in Britain over the last 60 years was presented to a large audience in the venue of the former Anatomy Lecture Theatre. The lecture is available to view here.

The lecture was enabled by AoU Local Activity Convenors (Ian Angus, Plan Manager of SESPlan; Ian Gilzean, Chief Architect at Scottish Government; and John Lord, Director of Yellow Book Ltd) and Bright Pryde, AoU Regional Networks Coordinator. The discussion was led by Diarmaid Lawlor (A+DS Head of Urbanism) and Eugene Mullan (Director of Smith Scott Mullan Associates) and provided an opportunity to discuss the implications for policy makers and practitioners.

The presentation drew on research undertaken over the past 2 years to present an account of some of the major societal changes across the last 60 years; in particular the end of intensely local working class lives.

Since the 1950s “communities” have been affected by significant forces of change including rising household income, a huge increase in car ownership, the development of New Towns and housing estates, and waves of migration. In the course of this transition we have come to experience our places more from the perspective of ‘consumers/users’ rather than as ‘citizens’.

The interaction of these and other powerful forces has led to a point where we now live our lives in a larger space than ever before, with everyday life conducted around an expanding network of locations. This has had profound effects, not least for the district and town centres that used to be central places in everyday local lives. The computer age and internet has also contributed enormous and startling change. The implications for society’s relationship with places are potentially enormous, with an infinite number of commercial, cultural, social and other exchanges set loose from the constraints of physical presence.

The presentation reflected on these developments and society’s ambivalent attitude to the new geography based on a more scattered life: “…over time we got what we wanted, and in the process we lost what we had”; “…what ended it was not poverty but rootless wealth”.

John suggested that, despite the immense power of the forces at work, long term trends are changing and we may be at a turning point: car ownership has stalled; distance travelled by road has been flat lining for a decade; average income has been declining in real terms; there is a need to address climate change challenges; inequality means not everyone is able to participate and many are going without. Above all, people continue to value the events and transactions that bring us together, for work, learning or pleasure.

Several themes emerged from the subsequent discussion:

  • A tension between ‘freedom’ and ‘rootlessness’, and a need for a sense of belonging
  • Place is an expression of shared societal values
  • We have collectively been part of creating what has happened
  • Built and social structures are necessary to support peoples’ lifestyles
  • Can a desire for vibrancy and vitality best be achieved at a local scale, with intense mixed use?
  • We need to make good use of current assets – which may involve better programming of what exists
  • Close social groups tend to have 150 to 200 people; suggesting a role for neighbourhoods
  • There is a role for new technologies in addressing the challenges

The event concluded with a recognition of the importance underlying the need for a ‘civic society’ with a common sense of purpose, and that such a desire cannot be achieved solely through the operation of market forces.

Select Bibliography
John Benson, The Working Class in Britain 1850-1939, Longman, 1989
Joanna Bourke, Working Class Cultures in Britain 1890-1960, Routledge, 1994
David Gilbert, David Matless & Brian Short (eds), Geographies of British Modernity, Blackwell, 2003
Richard Hoggart, The Uses of Literacy: Aspects of Working-Class Life, Penguin Modern Classics, 2009
David Kynaston, Austerity Britain 1945-51, Bloomsbury, 2007
David Kynaston, Family Britain 1951-57, Bloomsbury, 2009
Alison Ravetz, The Place of Home: English Domestic Environments 1914-2000, E & F Spon, 1995
Jonathan Rose, The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes, Yale, 2nd edition, 2010
Andrew Rosen, The Transformation of British Life 1950-2000, Manchester University Press, 2003
Humphrey Spender, Worktown People, Falling Wall Press, 1982. See also the Bolton Worktown Mass Observation archive:
Michael Young and Peter Willmott, Family and Kinship in East London, Penguin Modern Classics, 2007

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