November 19, 2012

The rural seeping into our cities

Paula Cocozza, Guardian, UK - The ruralization of play is happening all over Britain, from Kinross to Bristol.

"We've gone past the tipping point, with more wooden things going in than not," says Mark Hughes, who runs a playground furnishing company in Bath, called Big Wood Play. No one wants metal these days, he says. Not even the children. At one school, he was painting the wood blue, at the head's request, when the kids started protesting, "asking us what on earth we were doing. They thought it looked nicer natural."

In parallel, a rural children's literature is flourishing, sometimes with bizarrely niche titles such as The Stick Book: Loads of Things You Can Make or do With a Stick. More things, possibly, than you can shake a stick at.

....Everywhere you look, the countryside has crept into cities and towns – the way we shop, eat, read, dress, decorate our homes, spend our time. Street food is sold out of revamped agricultural trucks, or from village-delivery style bicycles. City-dwellers are booking into a growing number of courses on rural life; urban bees and chickens are commonplace (though do keep up: ducks are where it's at now). And when Rebekah Brooks wanted to get the prime minister's attention? "Let's discuss over country supper soon."

...Marcus Fairs, who founded online magazine Dezeen, thinks the recession has brought "a maturing of the urban attitude, and it doesn't feel right to have things that are too shiny and polished". Fairs, who grew up in the village of Thuxton, Hampshire, in the 1970s, also thinks "people got bored by the debate of countryside v city, and realised that the best part of the country could be brought into the city. The whole hipster look," he says, with its jeans that fall short, checked shirts, dungarees, belt-back trousers or waistcoats and homespun jumpers, "is quite Amish. Dalston [in Hackney] is full of people who look like farmers."

...It seems a little sad that, for many, the most instinctive way to access the best of the countryside is as consumers; as if what we are really buying into is a sort of processed pastoral. You can't eat a bag of crisps without knowing something of the field of potatoes that gave them life. Pipers Crisps spell it out, promising theirs are "made by farmers". You can snack on Urban Fruit (that's dried fruit) or buy loaves from self-proclaimed "city bakers" – "you know, like a city farm", says Lisa Brook, who runs Flour Power, in south-east London. She, incidentally, like Fairs, grew up in the country.

....Ralph Pite is a professor of literature at Bristol University, writing a book on "ideas of the simple life". He thinks one of the reasons for our hankering for rural contact is that "people find the countryside damaged when they travel to it, and want to bring back in their own spaces what has disappeared out there".

...It would not be unreasonable, after all, to respond to the perils of globalisation and irresponsible banking with a quest for more contact with nature, more attention to the provenance of small, everyday things.

As Pite says, "You can't just wish yourself out of your industrial society. You're always going to be committed to it, one way or another. It's a question of finding ways of working within it to make it better." That might mean scrambling over fallen tree trunks or scrambling a hen-specific egg. And, of course, as we continue to make those choices, the countryside, sensing an appetite, will change too.

No comments: