Category Archives: quality of life

Maison Dalrymple

Screen Shot 2016-06-07 at 23.04.13His French home, Dalrymple explains, is

isolated and peaceful, a clear stream babbling through its large garden, the cicadas singing and the bees busy with the lavender. Alas, the peaches are finished, as are the cherries and wild strawberries, but the apricots and apples are ripening.

In France, he points out, social problems, riots, etc.,

are relegated to the suburbs and cités, where they may safely be ignored.

American suburban ennui

Screen Shot 2016-01-05 at 07.34.56It was, writes Dalrymple, the

deadness that disturbed me.

The city had a centre,

but nobody lived there: after work everyone decamped to the suburbs, where they seemed to live in isolation from one another and where human relations, if they existed, were shallow and unrooted, as if everyone expected the neighbours to move away soon and so avoided deep attachments. The suburbs, quiet and spacious as they were, seemed to vitiate the purpose, or at least the pleasures, of living in a city, while not compensating for their loss by the pleasures of real country living. Even their comfort seemed suffocating, as if it were a kind of bribe, or an offer that no one could refuse, in return for living in the way that they did.

Screen Shot 2016-01-05 at 07.42.15Dalrymple’s reaction

was purely conventional. I little thought that my complaint was that of hundreds or thousands of intellectuals before me. I was still a long way from my present realisation—it has taken many years and much voyaging to attain it—that every place is interesting.

Public transport

Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 07.40.00existed only in a token way, and was useless if you couldn’t wait all day for it. To go anywhere, to do anything, a car was essential. Without one, you were like an anchorite in the Syrian desert. The suburbs were far too spread out for effective public transport without massive subsidies. This struck me as disastrous from the standpoint of quality of life. The car, supposedly a symbol of individual freedom, became an instrument of an informal servitude, adding two, three, or four hours to the workday: it added periods of isolation, frustration, irritation, and—frequently—rage. It is one thing to drive on the open road; another to be but one driver in a seemingly endless procession, thundering or crawling to and from work, five days a week, 50 weeks a year, spending a tenth of one’s waking life behind the wheel. The very sight of the traffic appalls me, and it would terrify me to have to participate in it. Perhaps such traffic is a quid pro quo for the great benefits of modern existence, and perhaps my horror of traffic is idiosyncratic, a personal taste, or merely snobbish; I have been fortunate in having been able to arrange my life so as largely to avoid it.

Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 07.44.27The possibility of living without a car has become for Dalrymple

a personal criterion of desirable city life. For this, a good public transport system is necessary; and that can exist only in a city with a dense enough population. Many have written about the problems of overcrowding, with psychologists performing experiments on rodents in cages to demonstrate the bad effects on conduct of lack of space; but the negative consequences of undercrowding in cities are less often emphasised.

England, foul England

Discobolus, copy of fifth-century Greek original, Water Gardens, Hemel Hempstead. It was in private ownership and stood at Amersfoot Hall, Potten End, until acquired by the development corporation in 1960

Discobolus, copy of fifth-century Greek original. Water Gardens, Hemel Hempstead. The statue was in the possession of a private collector and stood at Amersfoot Hall, Potten End, until acquired at auction by the town’s development corporation in 1960

The British townscape has been coarsened to a degree unequalled in Europe

Dalrymple writes that the destruction of Britain’s urban patrimony,

and its replacement by modernist multi-story parking garages and office buildings, represent a lowering of every Briton’s quality of life.

The unremitting tastelessness of British modernity

Britain’s townscape,

once civilised and gracious, has fallen prey to an ideological pincer movement:

  1. The rawest and shortest-sighted commercial interests demanded and won freedom to do whatever they wished with the inherited townscape, in the cheapest and most profitable way, so that harmonious assemblages of buildings centuries old suffered the most philistine and incongruous redevelopment that ruined them beyond hope of restoration.
  2. Birmingham

    Birmingham

    Radical reformers fanatically hated the architectural symbols of the past, merely because they were symbols of the past, whose despised élitist culture supposedly rested solely on exploitation, racism, slavery, and so forth. The official architect and town planner of the city in which I live wanted to pull down every single local building that dated from before the second half of the twentieth century, including entire Georgian streets and many masterpieces of the Victorian gothic revival. Fortunately, he retired when perhaps a tenth of the old buildings remained, the rest having been replaced by Le Corbusian leviathans so horrible and inhuman that many are scheduled for demolition less than 30 years after their erection. The Georgian spa city of Bath offers an even more startling example: in the 1950s, the city council wanted to raze it.

Screen Shot 2015-05-31 at 09.23.10The utter destruction of the aesthetic quality of British life

The British are

barbarians camped out in the relics of an older and superior civilisation to whose beauties they are oblivious.

Irredeemable ugliness

Britain’s city centres are the site of

Screen Shot 2015-05-31 at 09.26.02

Civic Centre, Plymouth

depressingly uniform chain stores without character or individuality, plate-glassed emporia hacked into the ground floors of historic buildings without regard to the original architecture.

This has deep social and economic consequences.

Where all is ugliness and indifference to aesthetic considerations, it is easy for behaviour to become ugly and crude and for collective municipal pride to evaporate. It seems not to matter how people conduct themselves: there is nothing to spoil. Attention to detail attenuates in an environment of generalised ugliness. What is the point of wiping a table, if the world around it is hideous?