The thought comes as a result of reading this essay by Walter Russell Mead, which argues that Britain could be ‘back’. But, while the prospect of Britain having a bigger say in the American-UK relationship is intriguing, I’m more interested in the thesis that it is happening because there’s less consensus in our civic life. Here’s the key section:
Britain today is looking more like it used to back when it was actually great. It is looking a little more like the kind of Britain that a Defoe or a Dickens would recognise: snarky, eccentric, iconoclastic. It is looking less like a slightly moth-eaten tourist attraction and a little more like the titanic force for change that not so long ago exported one revolution after another to the world.
Although it’s a bit of a stretch I was reminded of a discussion that used to raise it’s head occasionally when the cabinet in Lewisham would look at areas that have a stronger night-time and creative economy in the borough.
The argument used to go that we’d need to be more permissive of some forms of anti-social behaviour – graffiti, fly-posting etc. – in those areas than we would be in more residential parts of the borough. It seems to me to be essentially the same argument as is being made in Prospect, that you need some grist in the mill to develop creatively. After all, the argument went, is it any coincidence that Pigalle in Paris attracted writers and artists as well as being the red-light district of the city? Similarly is it surprising that New York was as creative as it was in the late 1970s and post the Giuliani clean up the best we’ve had is pale imitation?
I’m not sure myself how far I buy into that as it seems just as likely that there are other conditions that are conducive to creativity as an acceptance of a level of squalor. On top of that there seems to be some evidence that where streets are perceived to be unsafe, through the way we leave them, that people use them less.