Readers, I'm worried. And what am I worried about. Area effects. I discussed area effects in a recent blog entry and I am woried that, perhaps, I trivialised them too much. Over the last few days I have had a chance to reflect on area effects borne of my experience of living in my obsolete terrace house that is unsuitable for modern living, especially for a contemporary flexible service sector householder like me. The problem seems to be this. Area effects happen when habits are transmitted between households. This is a problem when bad habits are transmitted between neighbours that are from the same social class backgrounds. It embeds the culture of that class when, perhaps, it is wrong and needs to be challenged. The way to resolve this is to create neighbourhoods with a social mix so that households from social class backgrounds that have good habits can act as role models and transmit their habits to other households so that they achieve a boost. I am beginning to think that there might be something in this and I want New Labour to do something about it because the human race is facing a crisis situation that we will not reverse unless radical action is taken to address it. And I think that social mixing can help us reverse the situation we face. And, funnily enough, housing market renewal can teach us a lot in this respect.
Let me explain. I think that the some people have some very bad habits and that these bad habits are being transmitted through the population like a disease. The bad habit I am talking about is 'rising aspirations' or over consumption if you like. This is a bad habit of the middle classes and I am worried about them. This obsession with consumption is devaluing human life and human relationships. The more we seek happiness from status, and status from onsumption, the emptier we become as people and the emptier our relationships with other people become. So it seems obvious to me that we need to break this habit. And I think I know what to do about it and, better still, housing market renewal is my solution. What I am thinking is this. There is a monolithic provision of bland detached and semi detached houses in suburban locations across Britain that are often under occupied and that primarily act as status symbols. The consumption problem writ large! Now, the problem with these areas is that they are sufering from chonic levels of what I think I will call 'superfluous demand' (a bit like low demand but in reverse). This is a waste when the realisation of this superfluous demand results in a general impoverishment of human beings. So we've a big problem here. Clearly, areas that are sufering from the problem of 'superflous demand' should now be deemed to be experiencing chronic 'housing market failure'. What I propose - and I am guided by the principles of housing market renewal here, which I find most helpful - is that we undertake a radical restructuring of these suburban housing markets. I propose that we issue compulsory purchase orders on houses that have a 'high value' (in exchange terms) but low value in utility terms. Personally, I would demolish some of these houses (but not all of them) and replace them with obsolete terrace houses that would be owned and managed by the state. Now if we put working class people in these houses, I think they would have a good role model effect. I say this because working class people, generally speaking, tend to prioritise the use value of their houses over their exchange value. This is certainly the case in the neighbourhoods in Liverpool that I studied (see my book HOusing Market Renewal and Social Class). If working class people did act as role models in this way then they could potentially save the middle classes from themselves and avert a human disaster. I am suggesting, then, that my proposals could pull us back from the brink of our obsession with consumption (in particular, its symbolic aspects) by returning us to a basic concern with use value, need and happiness. So, possibly, there is something in this area effects stuff after all. My recommendation today is: kick me out of my obsolete terrace house and put me into a nice bland semi in some suburban hell where I can compete with my neighbours for distinction and see how I like it there.