Thursday, July 13, 2006

Anti-Commuting Legislation: Towards the Post-urban Society

Below is a series of letters to The Western Mail. Some were published and some were not due to their length.

Published

SIR - I must add my voice to that of Alan Williams (Letters: On the Levels, Wednesday) who opposes the building of the new Levels Motorway. However, given the parlous state of the environment I believe he does not go far enough. Alan suggests using planning to cut down on unnecessary commuting but the time has come for a more radical approach. I suggest that over the course of say the next ten years, through the use of legislation, that 80% of all workers must live within two miles of their workplace. The free market social engineers have got us to the point where millions of man/woman hours are wasted in traffic and tons and tons of pollutants are spewing into the air for no reason. Of course there are many details and implications to work out but the policy would start with major companies and government departments and would be achieved at the expense of the employers not the employees. Corporate opponents and laggards should face the possibility of nationalisation. Maybe someone even more radical might suggest that the policy be accompanied by a bold programme of road closures. The school run too must be dealt with. I suggest that all children must attend their nearest school and that no secondary school be larger than 400 pupils. This `live where you work, shool where you live' approach is the only way to seriously get to grips with the disintegration of our environment, stop ghettoisation of the poor and end the scandal of human traffic(jam)ing.

Not published - too long

SIR – Glyn Erasmus thinks a policy that puts an end to the scandal of commuting miles to work is `utopian idiocy' (Letters, Friday 14 April). I would have expected more cultivated common sense from a man so named. I suggested that over the course of the next ten years, through the use of legislation, that we should be aiming for a target of 80% of workers living within two miles of where they work. In addition all children should attend their nearest school which should be no more than 400 pupils in size. He says that if I want to know what this would be like that I should `check out the way people lived in the 18th Century'. However, this is not a pre-modern but a post-modern policy. It recognises the achievements of modernism and seeks to build on them whilst at the same time transcending their often anti-human characteristics. In the field of trivial consumption, Henry Ford's modernist rallying call that `you can have any colour you like as long as it's black' is very much a thing of the past but in our day-to-day lives we are still expected to attend the kind of enormous, faceless institutions and workplaces that arose during the 19th Century. Of course there will still be roads and lorries and people going on holiday but why subject ourselves to the waste that is commuting. As far as the Valleys `communities' are concerned, there are forgotten and abandoned estates up there where people cannot, through no fault of their own, remember what a job is and where they live in complete poverty and hopelessness. At the same time thousands of `better off' workers endure endless traffic jams to get into Cardiff and home every day. Why cannot jobs be relocated to the Valleys? If anybody should be accused of `utopian idiocy' it is those who believe that the current state of affairs is sustainable either economically or environmentally. Needless to say, the current proposals to close so many schools in Cardiff are very much a step in the wrong direction unless seen from Mr Erasmus's point-of-view in which case a lot of `precious' real estate will be freed up for more important things such as casinos and estate agents.


Edited version of above which was published

SIR – Glyn Erasmus thinks a policy that puts an end to the scandal of commuting miles to work and school is `utopian idiocy' (Letters, Friday 14 April). He implies that this would be like living in the 18th Century. However, this is not a pre-modern but a post-modern policy. It recognises the achievements of modernism and seeks to build on them whilst at the same time transcending their often anti-human characteristics. In the field of trivial consumption, Henry Ford's modernist rallying call that `you can have any colour you like as long as it's black' is very much a thing of the past but in our day-to-day lives we are still expected to attend the kind of faceless institutions and workplaces that arose during the 19th Century. Of course there will still be roads and lorries and holidaymakers but why subject ourselves to the waste that is commuting?

Not published - too long

SIR - So, the traffic in Cardiff is even more snarled up than that in London. Guess what, it is due to get a whole lot worse. Everything that happens in Wales is governed by the `Wales Spatial Plan’ which is a good old-fashioned piece of 20th Century unsustainable, dystopian nonsense. Its implementation in the South East is supposed to `strengthen the existing system of towns and cities’. So far so good but, the crowning jewel of the plan is that Cardiff `requires a much greater ``mass’’ of population and activity’. This is behind the desperate bid for a `super casino’ which is what passes nowadays for economic progress and should sit nicely next to the `super’ schools, the `super’ hospitals and prisons and the `super’ car parks. Super.

The Spatial Plan is a missed opportunity. South Wales, in regenerating itself after the brutal closures of mines, docks and steelworks, could have been transformed into a post-urban society where people live where they work and go to school where they live. A society that is not just sustainable but which produces a surplus of energy from the very act of living. Houses, schools and workplaces that actually feed into the national grid not off of it. An example: the tax office in Llanishen. What possible logic can there be to 3,000 people travelling to and from that building everyday (no jokes please)? With modern communications technology the workforce could be spread around ten beautiful energy producing workplaces located throughout the valleys with the stipulation that to work in them you have to live by them. To add to the idiocy of the situation, hundreds of new `houses’ are being built all along the Caerphilly Road and I’ll bet a pound to a pinch of salt that not one of them will be occupied by anybody who works in Ty Glas.

Instead of building new roads we should clear the ones we’ve got of pointless commuter traffic. That would increase efficiency no-end. And more and better public transport is not the answer either. Public transport, to be of any use, requires that people live and work on top of each other which is why the middle classes, to avoid this, took up commuting in the fist place. Often, those who do travel into town by train have driven to the station. Irony upon irony. In attempting to move away from the slums and areas of pollution commuters have managed only to globalise pollution as a phenomenon so that now there is no escape for anybody.

In the Spatial Plan the relative smallness of Cardiff is lamented. But, Wales’s great advantage could have been that, unlike every other cloned capitalist economy, it didn’t have an overbearing, energy and life-sapping capital city. That advantage, not to mention Cardiff’s charm, is being squandered.

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