Car dependency and cultural deserts…

This article popped up on our Twitter timeline earlier, but whilst it is a couple of years old at this point, it is just as relevant now. Houses that were in the planning stage when this article in was written in 2018 will probably be seeing their first residents right around now.

However, in 2020 the world changed markedly and our local communities suddenly became more important to us than they had for decades. It’s great if you have a local community, but so many young families are moving into these shiny new cultural deserts with nothing besides acres of identikit houses and a few cavernous retail outfits for “culture”.

The researchers said: “Rather than a supermarket off a roundabout, a business park on a link road, and a pub by a distributor road junction, here was everything arranged as a truly walkable neighbourhood – and it worked. “The secret is the layout of connected streets with interesting squares and courtyards, coupled with the way that offices, small shops, cafés, pubs and even a garden centre were integrated with the homes as in an authentic small town.”

Young couples ‘trapped in car dependency’ – BBC News

Regrettably Cardiff’s local development plan, along with the plans of many other councils, are built around the dystopian cultural-desert model. Whether we are talking about Pontprennau or Plas Dwr, neither has anything to form a community around.

Pontprennau

Your “third place?” Drive to B&Q perhaps.

I’ve spent a couple of years living in Pontprennau. However, this was back in the days when Pontprennau was still small enough to at least feel like some “community” activity could still happen. It even had a pub…given the rather aspirational name of “the Village Inn”. Sadly, that’s where the village development ended before a smorgasbord of aircraft hangers arrived, with copious amounts of car parking around them. It now looks like this:

Spot the “village”…

Lately I’ve become rather obsessed with the world of Blade Runner. The original 80s neon-noir classic starring Harrison Ford and Rutger Hauer perfectly captured the atmosphere of a dying Earth, where those who had the means and the health could emigrate to an off-world colony, leaving the poor and the sick to live out their miserable lives surrounded by massive skyscrapers, massive adverts and synthetic animals.

This was brought up to date by the fantastic sequel Blade Runner 2049, which sees a new blade runner, a replicant named K (Ryan Gosling), tasked with retiring previous-generation replicants, himself living out a lonely life in his apartment with his holographic voice assistant, Joi (Ana de Armas).

It’s easy to dismiss these movies as science fiction, but it’s not difficult to see how you get from today’s world, in the midst of the sixth mass extinction (caused by us); the pre-eminent technology companies racing to be the first to create artificial intelligence; and the rest of us living closed-off lives in soulless sprawling housing developments, connected to nothing but an A-road, driving to the nearest retail park with a credit card just to feel something.

I really hope that if the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that the world we live in today is really all we have and will ever have. Most of us will live out our years on this tiny wet rock, hurtling through space at 66,660 miles per hour. Yes, we can gawp at probes and rovers being sent to land on Mars, but we really need to get our own house in order.

The people we live with; the flora and fauna that has coexisted on this planet before we decided to kill two-thirds of it; are counting on us to do the right thing. To think before we act; to stop before we take a chainsaw to yet another tree; to think before we try to justify the destruction of yet more habitat for yet more soulless housing.

If we want the next 30 years to be better than the previous 30, continuing to do the same things over and over and expecting the outcome to be different is idiotic. Planners, the ball is in your court. If you see an application land on your desk for yet another student block, shred it. If you see an application for a development that may see the destruction of more green space, or the felling of more trees, shred it. If you see an application for another 10 acres of urban sprawl with no village amenities planned to tie them together, turn it into confetti.

Just make sure the shredded paper goes in a separate green bag, obviously.

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