Contributed by Tony Grant, all rights reserved. Images by Tony Grant.
Towards the end of her life Jane Austen was writing a new sort of novel, Sanditon. It appears to have been, in it’s far from completed form, an analysis of change going on in the world of the 18th century.The main female character in this story, Charlotte Heywood, is an observer of Sanditon, its development and its occupants. Through her eyes we the reader can see the social and environmental forces that are unfolding at Sanditon and the forces that act on its attempts to be attractive to people.
In our own day we are creating new communities that we hope will be sustainable in materials, energy production and lifestyle. A community called Bedzed, near Croydon in Surrey, is just such a new development.
Sanditon is an 18th century exploration of how a new settlement may have occurred and mistakes made and Bedzed is a modern version showing how we can learn from the past.
Charlotte soon learns on her way to Sanditon that there are two Sanditons. There is the old fishing village set in a sheltered valley leading down to the sea and there is the new Sanditon high on a hill with cliffs overlooking the sea. The old home of the Parkers is set in the valley just outside the fishing village and it has orchards, gardens and meadows, all the resources for self-sufficient living and it is in a sheltered aspect away from gales and the worst of the elements.
..in a shelterd dip within 2 miles of the sea, they passed by a moderate-sized house,well fenced and planted,and rich in the garden,orchard and meadows which are the best embelilishments of such a dwelling.”
The new Parkers home, Trafalgar House, is set high on a hill with no orchards and meadows and gardens and when they first arrive is being windswept by a minor gale.
Mr Parker has a concept of a seaside settlement centred around fresh air and spectacular views. Two very good ideals but missing many other requirements for a comfortable community to work.
Trafalgar House ,on the most elevated spot on the down, was a light elegant building, standing in a small lawn with a very young plantation around it about a hundred yards from the brow of a steep, but not very lofty cliff.”
Bedzed, near Croydon, has been created to revolutionise people’s lives enabling them to live without wasting the resources of this planet and to live sustainably. It is situated outside a well-established town with major roads and rail links very close by. It is for people who live ordinary lives and it is designed to help them improve those ordinary lives and the planet they live on.
People move to Bedzed with typical lifestyles, and over the years change their behaviour significantly.”
The purpose of Sandition was to attract people to the seaside for health reasons. Seawater and sea air were considered, in the 18th century, the panaceas for all known ailments. They were the elixir of life. While people were there it was also hoped by Mr Parker, that they would spend their money in the new shops, buy the latest fashions, stay in the smart hotels and take part in the events of the new town, billiards, going to the library, buying presents in the gift shops, hiring bathing machines and eating the local produce.
Bedzed was designed for people to interact in ways that improve their lives. Much of what is hoped for Bedzed are things that communities over the ages have provided for their people. It is small enough and big enough to create what is termed a,” a community spirit.” People come together in sports teams, community events such as fetes and to meet and make community decisions; a sort ground level politics. What is necessary for our modern age is to do it sustainably.
the community have created their own facilities and groups to improve quality of life and reduce their environmental impact.”
Sustainability in the 18th century has many of the elements we think of today as sustainability. People grew their own produce, many house roofs were made from straw or reeds, recycled waste was used as food for animals or dug it into the soil to fertilise it, as with human waste and they used the natural elements as a power source. The wind to dry clothes, animals to move machinery and dead wood or sustainable forestry were used to provide fuel. Clay for bricks, rocks, slate and large amounts of wood were also taken for building and these might not have been sustainable practices even the 18th century. The increasingly massive use of coal certainly was not.
The old fishing village of Sanditon and the Parkers first home, set snuggly in the valley, kept to these mostly sustainable principles. The new Sanditon, on the hill got rid of many of these essential practices. All the services, shops, hotels houses and transport were imposed on the hill and materials had to be got up there.
People become the secondary thought in that they were expected to fit in. The new Sanditon is what Mr Parker thinks people want. It is an example of modernisation removing peoples connection with the world they live in. It is an example of the designers of our world not listening to the people they are providing for. The new Sanditon is a vision of the way the world has gone. The old Sanditon is an example of where we could go.
Total sustainabliltiy in our modern age is technically possible. Bedzed is run completely on sustainable practices. Water is recycled, the use of insulation, materials from sustainable sources, some of it recycled, the use of local materials as much as possible to reduce transport costs and pollution, the sharing of electric cars and the provision of sustainable energy from it’s own pwoerplant fuelled by waste materials are all sustainable practices. What is most important of all, the people who live in Bedzed make the choices and think of the ideas that create the world they live in.
the design solves problems such as heating and water usage.” And “the design and services offered help people make sustainable choices such as walking rather than driving.”
One of the most encouraging things I have seen in recent years in south London, is an enormous DIY store that has recently been built about half a mile from where I live. It uses rain water to flush the toilets, has a sphagnum moss roof, triple glazing for extra insulation, solar panels, a heating system where water is heated naturally through underground pipes, and one enormous windmill surmounting the lot. Impressive? You bet!!!!!! There is a new high rise office tower in central London that looks as though a knife has sliced off the top at a sharp angle. There are three gigantic oval holes in this angular top. Each oval hole contains a wind turbine. The world really is adapting.