Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Green cities

Some time spent in the countryside offers the opportunity to return to the land, to eat freshly-grown food and turn away from the artifice of the city.

But however beautiful parts of the English landscape are, when talking to people that actually live there, it was surprising to hear how difficult it is for rural-dwellers to live a green lifestyle.

I was staying near Banbury, which is north of Oxford, and was struck by the enormous size of the Tesco in the town.

It is one of Tesco's new hangar-size outlets and curiously it is located opposite Kraft's biscuit factory, which looks (and smells) like some kind of heavy industry plant. In a way, the two make a good match: the industrial retail outlet selling the processed goods of the large-scale manufacturer. Big food.

And the size of the Tesco's in Banbury presumably reflects the area's dependence on it.

Completing the circle, those travelling to the store from outside of town must drive, unless they are lucky enough to be on a bus route.

To see why village residents must drive, here is an interesting set of maps drawn up by the enterprising people at MySociety. Note the small proportion of villages that the buses visit, and then compare this with the level of public transport access in London.

While city-dwellers might have visions of little shops in villages and farmers helpfully selling excess produce, these are rarely seen in reality. Many farmers are just as commercially-minded as the rest of us and have little time or incentive to sell locally.

And what of other environmentally-friendly services? The people I visited complained they do not have any doorstep recycling services, and so must drive to their local facility.

My conclusion: that city-dwellers have many advantages over those living in rural areas if they want to live the green lifestyle. We in the city can easily walk, cycle or get public transport to reach a wide range of shops and services. And because we live near many other people, we have on our doorsteps recycling and other services that become less practical outside of towns.

So maybe city life ain't all that bad.

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