There are plenty of people saying the same sorts of things as I’m about to say in this post: but I still feel it’s important to write it. After all, if enough of us say it perhaps it will actually happen.
I was talking to two friends today; as I have been speaking to many people since lockdown. Even prior to lockdown I wanted to do something about the environment: working in the property industry I have long tried to push for more sustainable development, and have tried to learn more about how to ensure new buildings are environmentally friendly and, just as importantly, and perhaps more challengingly, how to bring our huge stock of old buildings up to modern standards.
In the early 1990s there was a significant recession in Britain, with property values dropping drastically, it seemed almost overnight. I remember questioning at the time with a fellow surveyor why we always had to have economic growth. It seemed to me that there was a huge pressure on people to make things quickly in order to create huge amounts of money in order to pay shareholders huge dividends., and a constant increase in goods and services just didn’t seem sustainable. A few years later I remember walking through a shop just before Christmas and it hitting me hard how much ‘stuff’ there was – far too much choice and far more than any of us needed.
I’m no paragon when it comes to not having stuff, but I definitely feel less need of ‘stuff’ than I used to: and I’ve always felt strongly that we shouldn’t waste resources, and should recycle as much as possible. What was heartening from one of the conferences I was ‘at’ recently was hearing that young people nowadays don’t want stuff – they want experiences (though I’m not sure my teenage daughter would agree: however for my teenage son ‘experiences’ make good presents).
It would seem that the coronavirus pandemic is accelerating the speed of change on the High Street: more online shopping is being done (for obvious reasons) and if there really is a move towards buying experiences rather than stuff then perhaps – once we can be less socially distant again – our High Streets will more and more become the focus for communities and for people to relax and socialise.
However people have to get to their High Streets and at the moment there has been more emphasis on walking to local shops and buying local. It would be great for all these small businesses economically if that continued; but it would also be better for the environment if we didn’t all leap back into our cars.
Unfortunately I think we’re going to feel safer in our vehicles than on public transport, but as one of my friends pointed out today, if local authorities could tap into the current demand for cycling – and make it safer for people to cycle – that would help. The possibility of people working from home more and cycling when they do need to get to work could be a huge change in the world: and people would be healthier.
I think perhaps the demand for offices will also decrease: it’s been shown how well we can all work from home, and whilst the need and desire for face-to-face meetings will continue, will we ever really want to go back to all having to commute to work and work in the same room as a bunch of other people? We can save so much time and energy by not commuting too: my train journey to work takes about an hour and a half each way, and I really appreciate the extra time I have (to run, do yoga and have a proper breakfast and dinner) when I’m not having to commute. I am calmer and my shoulders are less tense.
There is a golden opportunity here. I just hope enough of us want to grasp it, so that something positive comes out of the sadness of coronavirus. It’s about time we human beings changed our greedy ways. Let’s take note of Sir David Attenborough and not waste things; and of Sir Michael Palin and have holidays closer to home: and at least take our time and go by train if we go abroad.
I am very interested in the effect it will have on education. The model we use now is very outdated and a lot of very creative practices are being demonstrated today. I am also getting to attend some events that I couldn’t get to physically in normal times. That is a real benefit. And with Zoom breakout groups small discussions are possible in large meetings.
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