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Let’s make cities no one wants to leave

Performance artist Ellie Harrison shares her vision of a low carbon city lifestyle after a year confining herself to Glasgow


Against all the odds, my year in Glasgow in 2016 was an attempt to live what I see as the ‘low-carbon lifestyle of the future’.

It was an attempt to live in the way believe we all must – to improve our individual well-being and that of our society, whilst also making dramatic reductions to our carbon emissions.

We all need to enjoy living within our means. We need to start ‘equalising assets and education’ across society, so that wealth and resources are more equally shared around the world, and therefore, eventually, there is less need for migration and the dislocation’ and (self-)destructive behaviours it creates.

The ‘low-carbon lifestyle of the future’ is one where we are no longer trapped in the destructive cycle of ‘living to work, working to earn, earning to consume’, and so lack the ‘time to live sustainably, to care for each other, and simply enjoy life’.

It is a lifestyle which is enabled and encouraged by a city which is sensitively designed, as Patrick Geddes suggested, around a balance of ‘place’ (geography), ‘work’ (economy) and ‘folk (anthropology), so that we can fulfil all our ‘intrinsic’ goals – community, affiliation, self-acceptance, physical health and safety – within a short distance of our homes.

In this happy and healthy new world, it’s the very fact that we do not travel far from home and have so many friends, family and colleagues nearby that makes these goals easier to achieve.

It is a city where education is inclusive and accessible and seen as a life-long process; where we all have the time, the curiosity and the means to find out about our surroundings, about how our city works -who has responsibility and power over what – so that we can locate where the levers of social change lie.

Patrick Geddes proposed that every city should have its own live ‘exhibition’, where plans for the city’s development would be updated and presented in real time. It would be welcoming and accessible space where every citizen could go to ‘learn about the place they live’ and take on the responsibility of studying and critically interrogating it to help improve the situation for all of us.

Geddes saw this ‘city exhibition precondition for parliamentary democracy’, arguing that it was impossible to know how to vote, if you do not understand the place where you live and its place in the world.

Empowered with this knowledge, we can all become ‘active citizens’ and not just ‘passive consumers’.

Instead of mindless consumption, we can invest our time and energy in holding our politicians to account. This low-carbon lifestyle of the future’ is both what will enable and what will sustain a real participatory democracy in which we can all be involved.

The ‘low-carbon lifestyle of the future’ is enabled by:
a city where we all have access to healthy, affordable and sustainable food; where we have the knowledge, skills and the time necessary to be able to cook ourselves and others healthy meals. (Food)

a city where everywhere we need to go is in walking or cycling distance; where we have the time necessary to travel slowly under our own steam; or there is luxurious, seamless and accessible free local public transport to get us anywhere else in the region we need to go. (Transport)

a city where the ‘costs of living’- our housing, energy and everything else – are minimal, so that money no longer the motivating force for everything we do. (Housing)

a city where there are no adverts spreading disinformation and ‘false consciousness’; where creative education is inclusive and accessible to all, happening in our communities instead of elite establishments as an ongoing part of all our lives; where we can all acquire the ‘organisation, and discipline’ necessary to channel our energy into something creative or productive instead of mindless consumption and other (self-)destructive behaviours. (Education)

a city where we all have meaningful work, where we can all contribute to delivering the essential goods, services and infrastructure which enable our city to function and so we can all see the fruits of our own labour in front of our very eyes. (Meaningful work)

a city which is ‘fearless’, of hope and not hate, not governed by the politics of ‘divide and rule’, where we are all free to try out new things, express our ‘individuality’ and speak up and have our voices heard without fear of attack; where ‘every human being [actually can be] an artist’ and an activist; where these distinctions dissolve and where art and politics become one. (Self-expression)

a city where all the powers necessary to deliver the essential goods, services and infrastructure our citizens necd lie with the local or regional authority and not in the bands of a distant administration (in Edinburgh, London or Brussels). (Local democracy)

a city where we all have the ‘nurturing family’ and the ‘supportive network of people’ nearby which Harry Burns, Scotland’s former Chief Medical Officer, says are key elements of well-being. (Love and emotional support)

a city that is just so pleasant to be in that people actually don’t want to leave. (Travelling without moving)

Extracted from Ellie Harrison’s book The Glasgow Effect: A Tale of Class, Capitalism and Carbon Footprint

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