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Sunday, March 01, 2009

Flee to the city or from the city?


Dr Keller argued that cities are centres of refuge, minorities, the weak and the oppressed, the poor and the very rich all make their way to the city for a safe place to live. And of course he's right. Whenever there is a war, people flee the countryside and head for the relative safety of the city (until that is of course the city itself collapses).

Of course these days there is a growing movement of retreat from the city. Increasingly people work in a city but want to live elsewhere (that's why we have the commuter belt), the internet and modern transportation has made the home office an increasingly popular choice, and there is a growing movement that favours all things local. Shop local, buy local, grow local, forget the multi-national, the chain stores and the corporations (city dwellers one and all). The increased mobility and move to the cities has undermined both family and community and people want to redisover a sense of connection to neighbourhoods and sense of place.

Cities are centres of massive consumption and pollution and in a changing world with economies likely to see major transitions over the next decade or so we will see the rise of the region and the dispersal of influence from the centre. The UK is highly centralised but that will change, devolution has brought new freedom to Wales and Scotland, government departments will be scattered. Twenty years ago if I wanted an international flight I had no option but to go to London, now I can go from regional centres (and yes I know these are mostly all cities) but that may well change again.

Families have long since left the city in favour of the quality of life they think they can find only by leaving and impossible to attain if they stay. The rise of the rural idyll will continue to dilute and counter balance the lure of the city (in western cities at least).

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