Saturday, 26 October 2013

Market Towns

From the BBC

The places with highest levels of life satisfaction tend to be larger than a small town but smaller than a city.

The happiest places of all, it turns out, are larger rural or market towns.

The government analysis suggests some of the benefits of market town living be "designed into" other communities. Among the official advice to ministers is the delivery of public services in ways which meet people's needs for social contact - fewer call centres, more real people, perhaps - creating thriving high streets and promoting volunteering.

Above all, it seems, the secret of market towns' high well-being levels is their sense of distinct identity, community spirit and perfect size - small enough for people to feel included but large enough to remain private.

To which the simple answer to all of that is: correlation is not the same as causation.

If you went back 30 or 40 years, market towns were often poorer than the big town nearby. People left them and crappy jobs to go and work in modern jobs in towns. In the early part of the 20th century, those that lacked a railway line were often very poor.

Then around the late 70s/early 80s, cars started getting cheap and reliable enough that many people started  buying houses in market towns, at first because they were cheap and then as they improved, because they were often more charming. New facilities like late-opening supermarkets and 24 hour garages meant that people could enjoy the benefits of the big towns while living in a rural setting.

So, that's where the rich often live now. In Ascot rather than Bracknell, in Alderley Edge rather than Manchester, in Warwick rather than Coventry.

Which is why you can't "design" market towns into main towns. Market towns don't have the unemployment problems or crime problems of large cities because the underclass can't get to live there. Someone in a house that loses their job for a long time will move somewhere cheaper.

As for "fewer call centres", what the hell? Call centres exist because they're efficient. Yes, it might not be as nice as walking into an insurance broker's office but people voted with their feet over that and chose the likes of Direct Line.


Bayard said...

"Market towns don't have the unemployment problems or crime problems of large cities because the underclass can't get to live there."

My experience of living in a market town is that the "underclass" have always lived there and have never left. It is a rare market town that doesn't come with its council housing estate and tiny cottages on busy roads that no-one is going to pay a lot of money for, even today. Urbanites see sweet, pretty old buildings and think "oh, it's all so nice, there can't be any crime here". I had more stuff robbed off me in the first year of living in a market town than I had in ten years of living in London, and it didn't stop after the first year.

Lola said...

Wasn't this the basis of Ebenezer Howard's Garden City concept?

Steven_L said...

I'm with B, there is a permanent underclass in nice market towns. Everyone knows everyone and everyone's business too. The local drug dealer is also the local police informant etc.

The Stigler said...

Must admit, that is more observation from the market towns I know around here that don't have that, and mostly saw council houses turned to right-to-buy after which the council house owners moved somewhere cheaper and cashed in.

I saw this in a market town I know. Personally, I've never understood why people always view "close-knit community" as exclusively a virtue without seeing its downsides.

Lola said...

Market towns do have drug, crime and unemployment problems. Usually among the yoof. I live near two Suffolk Market Towns, and the nearest does have a yoof crime 'problem'. It clearly is not on the same scale as - name a London borough - but it has caused 'issues'. My No 3 daughter volunteers for a church charity project to help them get of the street corner (and I mean THE street corner - there is only one!) and doing something recreational that isn't drugs or annoying to the locals. Yes, it does act as a dormitory for the bigger towns (Ipswich and Colchester mainly) b but it does have its own commerce and industry. And house prices are not any more outrageous than anywhere else. Overall, I am a bit of a fan of market towns.

Mark Wadsworth said...

"people can enjoy the benefits of the big towns while living in a rural setting."

Correct, that is what it is all about, getting a balance, i.e. the FBRI

Bayard said...

SL, agreed. Where I lived, everyone knew who the town villains were and occasionally aggrieved citizens would go round to one of their houses to look for their robbed stuff, take it back if they found it then beat up the villain for good measure.