The Future of Commuting

Traditionally people lived and worked in the same community, where travel from home to work was a relatively simple short walk . However the phenomena of commuting, living at a distance from the place of work has a history and in Britain has fundamentally changed how our society works. Where is this trend headed?

In the early days of commuting, it was simply that the better off could afford to travel every day and desired to live in bigger nicer homes a little further out from the centre of town. Roads had spare capacity for this and public transport was built around the idea of allowing people to travel into a town from further afield. The consequence of this was that inner city areas lost their middle class populations, became where the poor lived and became areas with high crime and social problems. This led to more people desiring to escape such ghettos and live further out.

This led to differentiation in cost of living, housing costs raised at different rates, mainly housing as transport networks began to reach capacity and travel in became slower. This meant that housing near travel hubs, whether railway stations or major roads became more desirable and costs increased. Then only those near the top if income brackets lived in the desirable hubs, leaving others living where they not only had to travel into the town but also travel increasing distances to the commuting network of railway stations and major roads.

As the economy specialised, larger corporations replaced numbers of local smaller businesses as they could initially produce the same goods more efficiently.  Subsequently, more and more jobs became based in hub cities, as smaller towns lost their local providers. Which further increased pressure on housing around the hub cities.

Today, we have a situation where living costs have become so high in the hub cities, the commute to work longer and more expensive, that people desire to escape, to regain the hours lost every day in expensive unpleasant travel. Partly this is a consequence of the economy separating our working lives from our personal lives.

Those able to, in particular for senior staff, with the rise of broadband internet  has enabled people to work from home. The ability to access files and use communication tools such as Skype has meant that there is no actual requirement to be in the hub city itself, except for an occasional meeting to facilitate the need to sometimes meet people face to face. This means that increasingly people can live where they want to, rather than where work needs them to be.

Often the choice is to live in the countryside, but not work there. To live somewhere away from transport bottlenecks is desirable and this makes it easier to travel to places away from the hub office when work demands such visits.

The interesting thing about this is that the effect of commuting on housing has had a reverse effect on areas. Where once people headed to the major towns and cities for work, they now leave them for a better life. Where once the suburbs around the big cities were once seen as the most desirable places are increasingly becoming the least desirable places to live. Really there is no longer anything requiring big towns and cities anymore as long as broadband internet and long distance travel options remain. Indeed a more evenly distributed population removes bottlenecks from transport infrastructure.

Having lived in both big cities and in the country, I can confirm that life is just easier in the smaller places. Getting food and satisfying daily needs takes less time as travel times are much lower than for people in cities.

Of course there are people who actually like living in cities. These people now occupy the inner city suburbs and price the poorer folk out to the suburbs, which is the reverse of the case twenty years or so ago.

The consequence of this is that businesses only need a nominal hub office and hire meeting space when required, the centres of cities become solely entertainment/ cultural hubs, where those who have travelled long distances to the face to face meeting can enjoy an evening of culture before heading back home. Those attending the meeting will arrange to meet so that they can travel in outside travel bottleneck times, when the junior staff still suffer commuting in from the suburbs.

Companies in London and the South East of England are already experiencing recruitment problems; British natives are reluctant to take jobs there and suffer the reduction in living standards/ costs to live there. Furthermore people are leaving London specifically to raise their standard of living, which isn’t good for a city hoping to maintain a it’s status as a living city.

It would seem that the era of daily commuting is coming to an end. Hub cities will remain for cultural pursuits (personal) rather than business (work) pursuits. The medium size towns, which struggle at the moment, will further decline.

As these trends continue they will impact on the UK housing crisis. Essentially people moving out of expensive cost of living areas, find relatively cheap housing and push up local pricing to the point the local people can not afford the housing and are forced to move away, so young people don’t live where there are opportunities to start their careers or learn the skills to home. It’s not all bad news, it will help the local high street, the butchers and bakers we have left that have survived, will benefit from  all the people who now can take a quick break to pop out to the local shops, rather than forced to rely on the supermarkets!

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What was Anxiety?

Much of this blog has concerned facets of my overcoming anxiety, though I have perhaps neglected to explain what that anxiety was like.

I did suffer from anxiety for years and years, without quite knowing what it was. I think I would have become aware exactly what it was if I felt free to talk about it, to get concrete answers from outside my own head. I did perceive a reluctance from people to talk about it,  it wasn’t given enough respect, people didn’t want to discuss it in enough depth, which is understandable, it’s not a fun thing to talk about. Sometimes if I pushed it into conversation too much, people would often distance themselves from you. so, if someone has a chronic anxiety it is easily not addressed and the anxious person keeps it inside their own head, where it lingers and festers.

Anxiety is really merely a label to cover a complex range of mental phenomenas. In many ways it is simply over-thinking. I am a deep thinker, it is something I enjoy, however sometimes such a questioning nature leads to not only a paranoia about other peoples feelings and motivations. This paranoia also extends into ones own thinking, a constant questioning about whether you as an individual are doing the right thing, so one becomes paranoid about your own feelings and motivations. so because you are never really happy doing anything all the time, almost any activity becomes tainted by these paranoid thoughts. This anxiety used to rarely go away, so activities are rarely enjoyed, they just become part of the escape so the journey kind of stops, as you are always questioning why you are doing it and negative thoughts pervade everything.

This anxiety is like building a wall inside your own mind, where your personality is trapped and kept away from even the things you love, even your own memories as you can eb anxious about those too. For example I love reading, especially novels, however often anxiety and fear, the wall, keeps a distance between an enjoyment of the story and the simple act of reading.

Staying behind this mental wall, seems a terrible way of being, what it does offer is a safe place, an escape from a constant nagging anxiety. Reading in itself can be done from this safe place, however a distance is kept from the story. It’s like watching a film but not allowing yourself to fully engage with the plot. Now I am no longer anxious I do find myself bursting into tears during sentimental moments in films which I never used to do, becuse i am properly engaged.

Of course, sometimes this anxiety is escaped, with a close group of friends, people who knew me well enough not to be perturbed by my behaviour and I was free to express myself, or drinking alcohol, also helped with this as it stops you over thinking. Such escapes were always blissful and I wanted them to last forever, so sometimes, when enjoying myself I would be the last to leave the party. So, the anxious person, is always looking for the next chance to escape for a little while from it and then desire that moment to last forever. Problems arose when I would meet people, whilst escaped and then meet them again and I would feel overcome by anxiety, I would feel a fraud and taken over by worries of how to behave and what to say.

The anxiety spread into social anxiety, where in conversation I would constantly fret about being appropriate, not upsetting people, paranoid about how I was being perceived, whether what I was saying was correct, or influenced by negative ideas. There are parallels with the autistic spectrum, anxiety causes you not to understand how other people are feeling (because you are not really engaged in the moment) and act due to your own reasons, rather than reacting to what is happening live.

I was worried that people only ever saw me as seeking a relationship with them, when all I wanted was to talk and hopefully get to know someone well enough so felt I could be myself. As such, I gave out signals that I ‘needed’ a relationship with such people, whereas now I am not so concerned whether I am understood or not, i can have ‘normal’ inter-relations with people.

Anyway, I was able to make the escape permanent! What I needed was to be escaped from anxiety for long enough for myself to recognise it as ‘normal’, that i could exist in a more or less anxiety free state. I achieved this by spending months living and working in tropical forests, in Madagascar and Honduras, the long term blissful experience I craved came about, away from the constant need to interact with such a range of different kinds of people, or with people I shared some core beliefs with. I was happy, not anxious long enough to make sense of it, to feel like  ‘normal’ person.

Transitioning to being a unanxious person, was itself quite a journey. Whilst I felt free to be myself, express myself and fully engage with things I am passionate about, this exuberant newness, the zest of a new convert did seem overwhelming to other people, especially the people who helped me realise not to be so anxious. I don’t think non-anxious people quite get how someone can be so thrilled to just be ‘normal’ or accepted, healthy to be able to fully engage and concentrate on tasks.

I know that people can be disturbed by someone overly being open with them, because I still had the habits of an anxious person, who clings desperately to each escape and each person that helps them escape anxiety. Now free of anxiety that openness is always available and doesn’t just come out during a drunken evening. People seem to perceive this behaviour as seeking a relationship, which it isn’t. Really, the whole politics of social interactions are suddenly opened up and one quickly realise that your skills and knowledge are far behind everybody else, but that you are learning quickly. i’m also aware of lacking such development by being an only child in a family that had anxiety issues and was poor at expressing their feelings. I have realised to not be concerned about any negativity towards me, it is simply that they don’t know where I am coming from and react to my behaviour according to sets of social rules that have been developed with non-anxious people.

 

 

Town mice and Country mice

When I was a little boy my grandmother helped me learn to read with the Beatrix Potter books. in one of these tales “The Tale of Johnny Town-Mouse” concerns how a country mouse visits the city and struggles to cope and escapes back to the country. The country mouse then invites the town mouse they be-friended to the country, the town mouse also struggles and escapes back to the city. This is true for me, the longer I spend in town the more I yearn to escape back to the country.

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It always takes time to mentally adapt to new places, change patterns of thought and new ways of living. Living organisms are hugely adaptable and find ways of surviving in new habitats. Human beings often have the choice about where they live, and will make compromises about living places they don’t particularly like for the sake of their career or their partner.

Generally there is a trend towards urban living as the worlds population expands. However, at least in the UK, they’re is a significant shift of people moving away from the cities to the countryside. These movers are generally relatively wealthy and highly skilled so the transition is possible without a drop in living standards. So, whilst much of humanity has or is undergoing adaptation to urban living there are also ‘town mice trying to live in the country’.

Having looked through various message boards and read about some of the issues city folk have with living in the country, it seems as though country folk have often the opposite attitude to issues with city living. It is perhaps that country folk grew up with the countryside and have found a sense of comfort and belonging with it and it is these very things that city folk struggle with and vice versa. To put it another way, it seems as though the things the country person misses about the country are the very things the city person struggles with in the country (again and vice versa).

Some examples:

Isolation and everybody knowing your business is a country issue, with the city opposite of too many big crowds and a sense of anonymity when walking down the street. Country folk being at ease with the former and uncomfortable with the latter (and vice versa).

Having to take the car everywhere and only walking for pleasure in the country, compared with having facilities close by and accessible via public transportation.

Having to talk to the locals, compared with only ever speaking to people in my social circle. As a country person I like and think it’s a good thing to talk to everyone, rather than just people we find interesting or similar to ourselves.

Feeling the need to be able to escape back the country/city.

Power cuts and bad weather, compared with  the opportunity  being forced to share wonderful candlelit evenings and get the board games out!

As a country lad myself, after having having lived in big towns and cities, I have learned and adapted, but never quite achieving the sense of becoming a city person. Cities are places I tolerate rather than derive energy from. It is a mental adjustment that people have to give up things they learnt strongly in childhood, they are hard and seem scary to shift.

I don’t get the City dwellers perception of distances. For example, I can say, I don’t miss out culturally in the countryside as I can drive to the city in two hours, an 80 odd mile journey. However it seems that City dwellers express shock at an 160 mile round trip just to go to a concert. However the City dweller may spend the same two hours travelling to a concert, that is perhaps 15 miles away, but the other side of the city. It’s still two hours, perhaps the city dweller has the expectation that things are close at hand and not far away. I wrote recently about where I grew up having to drive 8 miles to the supermarket. Well I’m currently in a large town, where it takes the same time to get to the supermarket, progress is slower due to the traffic.

Perhaps this is the issue. When I was a child i imagined cities to be these wonderful places, where everything was much more efficient, you had access to more wonderful experiences. I have grown up to discover that this isn’t true. It seems that as cities become more crowded, they become even less efficient, whilst things are getting easier in the countryside (we’ve even got broadband too now in most places). Perhaps this is partly the reason for these movement or aspiration of people moving back to the countryside?

When I was at school I went on work experience, during this the boss was describing why he’s rather be a big fish in a small pool, than a small fish in a big pool (i.e he preferred being responsible for his decisions in a Welsh backwater, rather than be at the centre of the company by working at the head office. This is analogous of the big cultural difference between the Country and the City.

City dwellers seem to argue that they have the concerts by the great artists on their doorstep, whilst in the country we attend concerts by local artists or put on concerts ourselves. The Country way seems better as they is a greater sense of involvement, a greater intimacy with other people and greater insight because of it. Rather than begin a mere passive observer of a great artist at a distance. Another example of this is food, city dwellers have easier access to more exotic foods and a wider range, whilst in the Country there is more time to cook things ourselves or be handmade locally.

Actually, objectively, perhaps neither is superior to the other, it’s just what people are used to and i think they’re is a human need for a bit of familiarity from time to time, so we can appreciate the joy of different experiences.