Land hits the headlines again, this time around the size of housing and the limited room some people find themselves with. It seems to follow on from the findings where,
• 70% of the UK land is Agriculture, and held by 0.28% of the population.
• 20% of the land is Waste (including mountains, rivers).
• 5% of the land is Business, and
• 5% is Domestic which houses 90% of the population.
The topic of a ’space to live’ is an important one, and it was something that came up often during my research of Quaker Capitalism. Against the flow of building trends, business practice, distribution of finance and economic guidelines, a number of Quaker communities decided to buck the trend. Within a short space of time during the Industrial Revolution, they presented to the country a different way of doing business. From employee services to health care, from social responsibility to community development, they put in practice an ethical and holistic model of living. This was over century before the emergence of the political funding buzz word of ‘social enterprise’ that we have today.
With our benefit of hindsight, it is easy to critique some of their practices. Suggesting maybe a less paternal approach, something that might have prevented the problems they ran into in later years. Specifically, the disempowerment of individuals and sustainability of services. But within all these faults, their impact radically, and positively, transformed business practice and living standards for many people within inner city life.
One of their radical models was around housing. Within a trend of uniform, terraced and ill-equipped accommodation, they developed an anarchic approach to architecture. In partnership with artists, they developed housing that carried individuality alongside living conditions that valued the people who were going to reside within the buildings.They recognised that what you designed spoke a lot about your own priorities and how you valued your fellow human being. Approach to space, living standards, profit first or humanity first. All these aspects, and more, revealed the secrets of the human heart.
It was a gamble that didn’t make financial sense in many ways. Increased costing, increased construction times, increased land allocation for each living space. But, within all the uncertainty there was a realisation that housing and engagement with land was a contributing element towards the fulfilment of life.
Their experiments and models paid off. Within a generation they proved to local and national government that a different approach to housing could effect the health, education and work ethics of individuals. The flip side, their proof and later abdication of responsibility to government structures, eventually led to a profit first approach and ideology that missed the driving force of those experiments.
One driving force was the lifestyle guidelines that those Quaker communities fashioned during a time of persecution and opposition after the English Civil War. Finding themselves with limited options to survive within the economic system of the day, they developed alternative structures. An underground movement that imagined a new way of living. They articulated their hopes and dreams into practical examples, that gathered pace over time. And as persecution lessened as the years passed by, they emerged into the open with an alternative economy that was built upon an ethical framework of prophetic imagination and compassion for one another. All of this encased within an environment of honesty. A culture where truth and vulnerability reigned over spin and self interest.
Sadly, that bedrock soon disappeared as success led to governmental adoption. Finance requirements, vested interests and political goals replaced some of the key aspects of that alternative movement. But, its legacy remains today with some of our garden cities and employee services.
It is this legacy that leads me back to the article about housing.
“ The average floor space for a dwelling in the UK as a whole is currently 85 sq metres, whilst new-builds average only 76 sq metres – putting Britain at the bottom of a league table of 15 countries including Ireland, Portugal and Italy. “
“… the Home Builders Federation said market forces, most particularly the price of land, dictated the cost and size of new homes. “
Something needs to change - and that change needs an alternative language to the one we currently use. Imagination framed around terminology of a system that benefits just a select few will only prove to be a glass ceiling. Something that gives an illusion of change, yet continually prevents us from really stretching towards something new.
Alternatives are needed. Alternatives are present now. Yet to speak of them and to act them out, then challengingly, they demand an imagination that doesn’t make sense to our current ways of doing things.
Exciting opportunities? Fearful opportunities? Unwanted opportunities?
The eyes of creation are upon us for our next move.
A recent episode of BBC Panorama highlighted another dimension of the housing debate.