Feeling and perceiving geography

How does the feeling of cityness come about? Figures rarely tell you how a landscape or space feels. Near where I live in Gloucestershire, 25 years ago there was a clear distinction between the natural landscape and human settlements, whether the village Bisley, the town Cheltenham or the city outside the county, Bristol. The county now has a population of 568,000 and 60 per cent of the land is rural; the growth in population from a figure of 515,000 in 1980 was 10 per cent. Yet car numbers rose by 30.2 per cent in the same period. Add to this a dramatic increase in mobility -people are currently moving around six times as much as in 1950, from 8km per day in 1950 to 19.5 in 1980, 48.2 in 2000 and a predicted 96.4km in 2025. By contrast, travel by buses has decreased from 32.8 per cent of all journeys in 1960 to 6.7 per cent in 2000.15

At the same time, personal living space has nearly doubled since 1950 and increased from 38m2 per person in 1991 to 43m2 in 1996 and 44m2 in 2001. This reflects the increase in single person households and the decrease in larger families.16 As more people demand more dwelling space, so existing settlements expand and new ones emerge. Empty space is ever more scarce.

To accommodate the increasing numbers of people over time, open space was infilled and new estates were built. The greater number of cars led to strategic roads being widened, bypasses being added and more roundabouts. The larger supermarkets were moved from town centre cores to peripheries at the nexus points of various settlements, petrol stations were added along routes, ribbon developments were allowed and more signs were put up. Step by step and imperceptibly the atmosphere changed. The area's overall feel is now one of cityness.

Transpose this tiny local instance in Gloucestershire on to the global scale. visualize the vehicles and the ever-expanding physical infrastructure needed and space used. The British net increase of 800,000 cars per year has already been noted. In the US the annual net increase averages 2.7 million per year. In Europe between 1995 and 2002, 32 million more vehicles hit the road. Wait for China and India fully to emerge - China has 20 per cent of the world's population and only 8.1 per cent of its vehicles, a large proportion of which are vans and lorries. The 5.2 personal cars per 1000 people looks minuscule in contrast with Western Europe, where it is just over 400 per 1000.17 If China catches up, the figures become absurd - several hundred million more cars would be on the roads.

Look at living space. Similar processes to those occurring in Gloucestershire are taking place throughout Europe, where living space differs from place to place but hovers at around 40m2. Contrast this with the North American average of 65m2 or more dramatically still China, where prior to 1978 average living space was only 3.6m2. By 2001, with the massive expansion of apartments, this had risen to 15.5m2, close to the 19m2 in Russia.18 What are the spatial implications of China reaching European levels?

Single person households are rising. In Britain in 2001, 29 per cent of households were solely inhabited by single persons, up from 18 per cent in 1971. Household inhabitants have reduced from 2.91 people per dwelling in 1971 to 2.3 in 2001. In Sweden, the figure is 1.9, the lowest in Europe. If Britain were to match Swedish figures it would require 47 per cent more dwellings by 2050. Consider the physical impact of these increased dwellings. In the rest of the developed world the range falls within the same margins - the US, for instance, has a figure of 2.61 - but for the less developed world it is just over 5. India has 5.4 and Iraq, the highest, 7.7. Once these countries develop, the demand for space and mobility will increase, although population growth will decline as education levels increase. This is the acknowledged pattern, but by the time that has happened what will the world look like?19

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