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The Future is… Nomadic?

August 5, 2010

Is it time for a post-settlement society?

Are home ownership, long-term council house tenancies and commitment to a community doomed to become little more than quaint memories of how society used to work?  Do they restrict the mobility of skills, knowhow and muscle power that a modern economy demands?

There are many that argue this case.  Richard Florida suggests in his book The Great Reset that the creative classes should no longer tie themselves down geographically by committing to mortgages and buying properties.  Grant Shapps, Housing Minister wants social housing tenants to have Housing Freedom Pass and a National Home Swap Scheme to allow tenants to move in pursuit of work, or for ‘any other reason’.

The message seems to be ‘don’t commit yourself to a community – be prepared to follow the money – the future is nomadic’.

Can you imagine a society divided into the rooted and the rootless?  Those who can afford to commit to a community for the long term and those who can’t?

It used to be that we wanted people to come to our communities and stay in them.  To shape a society and an economy that would serve the community.  To care about community.  Now the big idea seems to be shaping community to serve the economy.

  • Is this progress?  Or a progress trap?
  • Should we engineer society to meet the increasingly dynamic demands of a growing and shifting economy?
  • Or should we engineer the economy to serve the kind of communities in which we wish to live?
  • Will increasing social mobility help to reduce inequalities and promote social justice?  Or will it create even more stark demarcations between rich and poor?
  • How will our city evolve if the churn in our working communities is significantly increased?
  • Or will the possibility of a digital Britain and an economy that is ‘lighter than air‘ mean that spatial mobility is much less of an issue than we may think?
  • Or is it just a lot of fuss about nowt?
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2 Comments
  1. You pose a number of interesting and challenging questions with ‘what do we need and want’ as the underlying thread. For me and I know for many, the key is a revitalised local democracy. We can leave the answers to these questions to others, politicians, corporate interests both local and global or we can start to construct ways of living and working which reflect a broader range of needs. However, we live currently in what appears to a fragmentary world of niche markets and interests on the one hand and a global homogenisation on the other. In order to get a conversation going around these issues we need a variety of small strategies on the big issues and a tactical perspective on where and when we initiate these conversations.

    The Big Society Network and Big Society in the North are starting points, so is local enterprise, social and conventional. The overall aim is to enhance people’s ability and power to realise they can change the way things work and that there are possibilities beyond the usual routines, systems and structures.

    I am currently working for a charity in Birmingham and have found partners – social enterprise and community development trust – fertile ground for co-creation (designing initiatives with people, valuing their knowledge and insight etc) in supporting chances in health behaviours. Development is not linear but we are engaged and beginning some interesting conversations as a basis for change.

  2. Really good article, one thing that people in power seem to overlook is the ability of technology to allow people to work from anywhere on the planet as effectively as anywhere else. As a result of this I am sure we will see people still based in communities or even relocating to historic communities because location is less important.
    The idea of house swap schemes and people locating to new areas because of work is complete idiocy in my mind. There has been comment in previous Conservative literature that the only place where careers and wealth can be developed is in the South East. No account for the amount of talent we have in Leeds and Yorkshire. No acceptance that there are businesses that thrive in the region because they aren’t in London, without the overheads but with the quality of staff, skills (Universities), natural resources and infrastructure.
    I do however believe the future will be nomadic, not because people will move with work but people will move to be where they want to be at different times of their lives, family, friends, employment, quality of life, schools, health care, University. But isn’t society like that now anyway.
    What the real challenge here is how to get people living in an community to invest and engage in that community. Not financially but utilising some of the “cognitive surplus” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qu7ZpWecIS8) to enhance our own locality for the good of everyone else.

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