Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Model of a charmless town.

We live in a town which on the surface looks like quite a lovely, woodsy sort of place full of niches to explore and what appears to be a community.  It has a nice population size of about 10,000.  People can be seen cycling, jogging and walking on the many many many paths that riddle dozens of parks and woodlands. There is an area with a man made series of streams and ponds and the whole town is surrounded on three sides by woodlands then fields.

Before we lived here (and M. just travelled here to work) M. called it Teletubbie Land because of the manufactured pond and hills that form the heart of the town. Really that should have given us ample warning about the real nature of the place we decided to move to- however temporarily. Now M. just calls it Unfriendly.

It has a smallish chain supermarket, a Dominoes Pizza, Subway, several hairdressers/beauticians, estate agents and a corner store which also hosts the Post office. There are a few cafes which cater to the lunch time needs of white collar workers.

If you were to wander through this town the first clue comes in the fact that Teletubbie Land falls in the middle of an area which consumes half the town and is just office blocks, headquarters and car parks (which you can see lit up all night long from inside). Next you will see the huge building project which is an enormous (for British standards) shopping center. Another clue comes when you realize that you practically have to accost people on the street to have your "hello", "good afternoon" or smile returned by the numerous cycling/jogging/walking people you pass.
 Next you realize none of the woodlands are managed- even the ones owned by the forestry commission have almost no undergrowth due to over crowding and lack of good husbandry. You cross only the occasional dog walker in the woodlands and when you look around only the squirrels appear to be thriving in this nature riddled countryside.
If you were to wander slightly further into the fields you would see... nothing. They are not grazed, or plowed or ostensibly used for any purpose whatsoever. 
That's not to say it has no charms or benefits at all: we see a lot of deer, practically daily, and there is apparently a LOT of hedgehogs as this autumn I've seen at least 4x more than I've ever seen in the rest of my 15 years living in England.

But how is it that a town perched in such a brilliant location with an abundance of resources and possibilities can remain so very charmless?
I believe it has a lot to do with the town's history and is a symptom of our times and follies.

When we tell people where we live the universal reply is "Oh yes- we always liked to go shopping there." The story is this: Whiteley's one claim to fame was an outlet center which drew shoppers and was poorly managed. The outlets were demolished in 2011ish and over the last year a new shopping center has been growing in its place with a lot of signs announcing its opening in the Spring of 2013.

I recently overheard a woman looking at the building works telling her son who was about 4 years old. "I'm so excited! I'm going to go [to the shopping center] every Saturday once it opens!" when the boy asked the obvious "Why?" the woman said with great conviction "Because that's what you do for FUN on Saturdays!"
An acquaintance told me "Oh we are so excited we can't wait for the shopping center to open this spring!"

We were astonished when we learned from a farmer at an agricultural show that a few decades ago Whiteley was a large Dexter cattle farm which has since been developed into the ghastly waiting room it is now. There are no chickens in the yards, no chimneys smoking from roofs and no farmers markets in the area. Sadly I believe we temporarily live in a community whose purpose and ethos is based on convenience and consumerism which is wholly dependant on nonrenewable sources of energy and lacks the simple human interactions which make a place a home.

What will we be left with in 50 years if this is the world we are grooming for our children?

xx Jo

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