Thoughts on Alex Seffen lecture at the Royal Geographical Society

Last Thursday evening I was fortunate to be able to see Alex Seffen lecture at the Royal Geographical Society hosted by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Steffen’s opening premise was that we have a tendency towards having a very in-depth knowledge of one particular area, yet with little understanding of how it fits into the broader scheme of things – in short we are unable to see how the world operatesas a system. Given my interest in interdisciplinarity I would be the
last person to argue with him about this.

The part I found of particular interest was Steffen’s focus on increasing densities of cities. Among other advantages increased city density reduces the need for transport by making goods and services more accessible. This is something of a contrast to the emphasis that is so often put on sustainable transport. I am not sure that the area of Southampton in which I live qualifies as a food desert,but access to services is an important issue. I live about twenty-five minutes’ walk away from my GP surgery and nearest post office; not a major problem for me personally, but a huge barrier to a person unable to walk the distances involved. My nearest high street is Woolston, or “the recession-hit Woolston High Street” as it is all too frequently referred with its boarded up shops. It is busier on a Saturday night with the takeways and bookmakers than it is on a Saturday morning.

Despite living in a city, I live further away from any post office,bank, supermarket or doctors’ surgery than I ever have living in villages and small towns. In the UK denser cities are usually associated with 1960s tower blocks which have become associated with social as well as architectural failure. Steffen showed us pictures of high density living arrangements which are much more attractive and enjoya ccess to goods and services (though I don’t recall him addressing the question of who has access to this housing.

Some more thoughts on the lecture are coming soon.

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