Striving for a "Better" Life?
A tweet I read today about some graffiti in Birmingham made me think about the process of gentrification many of our cities are undergoing. These are just some of my simple thoughts on the complex issues this brought to my mind… the deeper issues of community building and development and sociological concerns, I am in no way qualified to discuss in any great depth! (If I had the time, I could waffle for a bit longer, but that’s about all!) To me, who knows nothing about town planning and urban regeneration methods, it appears that gentrification is a side effect of regeneration and improvement. And it’s not just confined to our cosmopolitan major towns and cities.
In all honesty, I very know little about urban living. I was brought up in a largish Yorkshire village with a population of around 2000 people; although just 7 miles from the nearest decent sized town and 20 miles from the closest large city, it was quite an isolated place in some ways. High in the Pennine hills, when it snowed (which it seemed to more in those days – or is that just my childhood memories!?), you weren’t going anywhere. In my quaint and endearing (if not antiquated) village life, the hustle and bustle of urban life was something alien to me. On reaching adulthood, I had a brief taste of city living in Newcastle as a student – at the time, the city was undergoing the first phases of it’s post-industrial regeneration and gentrification, but I was quite oblivious to it… as most things! 😉 Since then, I’ve lived a suburban life, in Huddersfield, Manchester and Birmingham.
It seems that if we are to “improve” our run-down towns and cities, due to human nature, gentrification is virtually unavoidable. Some definitions of gentrification come with a positive tone, while others may more readily see the negative side, such as the creation of sterile, modern communities where all character and community spirit is lost. But doesn’t this happen everywhere? The small village I am from, and have visited rarely over the last ten years (sorry mum!), has undergone much redevelopment and regeneration over that period. Granted, due to the fact that its antiquity is what makes the place charming, much of the old character of the village has been preserved and, indeed, improved upon. However, gentrification is a problem in places such as this too. It’s much harder for first time house buyers to stay in their native village should they want to and my dad is forever whining about how hard it is to get a seat in his favourite real ale pub because of the “bloody tourists”!
This just got me to thinking, at what price does progress come? As with everything, we enjoy the benefits of the health sciences, ease of transport, eating what-we-want-when-we-want regardless of whether it’s in season or how far it had to travel, the internet, hundreds of tv channels etc etc., but at what cost to the environment, society, human relationships, child development and communities? Hubby and me watched the first part of Bruce Parry’s Amazon on BBC2 a few nights ago. His first pit stop was a few nights spent with a family of Quechuan llama farmers, high in the Peruvian Andes near the source of the great river. Living a simple, hard working life in a gruelling environment, they spend most of their income sending their eldest daughter to university – again, human nature, to want to improve your lot.
Watching these contented and enormously generous people from our modern, civilised (and possibly over-romantic!) perspective, however, we couldn’t help but feel envious of their simple lives.