Monday, 20 February 2012

Family Trees

This week we are continuing with the theme of Sustainable Relationships and as it is a just few weeks since my second grandson was born I’m thinking about the relationships that will sustain young Oren throughout his life. Oren has a good chance of living to be 100 and it is 100 years since his great grandfather was born – so four generations may span two centuries – which seems like a very long time!

Whilst it hard to predict how Oren will be living in the 22nd century it is clear that the last 100 years has brought much greater mobility in terms of where people live and work. A consequence of this is that families are now spread out all over the country and not in a position to share resources. My elder daughter has a one year old with winter vomiting sickness – not a good time for the washing machine to die. We have a washing machine but it is 100 miles away - so not much help to her. We live in a village where most people are comfortably off and many are middle aged or elderly.  Most people have washing machines, lawn mowers and even cars that are very lightly used - whilst their offspring struggle to earn the money to buy their own. Clearly this is not an efficient use of resources.

People in our village are often very happy to share things when the need arises – our neighbours did our washing when our geriatric washing machine suffered a fatal illness that no amount of scavenged parts could mend – but we only scratch the surface of what is possible. Regular sharing of tools and skills would not only save resources and energy but would strengthen the community. Another obvious problem is that both my daughters are raising babies in very cramped conditions due to having to live near to London for employment but not being able to afford the massive property prices. Around here we have lots of elderly people living alone in houses larger than they can easily manage. Our housing system is based on the days when life expectancy was about 60 for many working people.

Houses are not just places to live but for many people represent their major asset and house ownership can determine the resources available for care in old age. When most people will be spending a third of their lives as ‘elderly’ we need to be much more imaginative about housing provision. It seems to me that the way forward for Oren is to develop a society where people are financially invested in their local communities rather than living as isolated individuals. Housing provision and education need to be flexible throughout people’s lives and respond to their changing needs. I can’t see that we will return to the days when people were born and died in the same village and lived in extended families but we need to replace those lost relationships with a community based equivalent if the children born today are going to enjoy their many years on this planet.

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