Thursday, January 12, 2012

Transition Town Reading and London Commuting.

The town of Reading lies some 40 miles to the west of London. Each day around 70,000 people commute from Reading into London, from a population of around 230,000, and surprisingly, almost exactly that same number commute from London into Reading. I say surprisingly because although the link between Reading and London is such that it is often referred to as a commuter town, it is generally thought that the jobs are all in the Capital, but this is no longer so. For one thing, some businesses have found it cheaper to set-up in Reading and have moved from London, and also there are new high-tech industries e.g. "silicon valley" that have brought wealth to the town, bypassing London to take-root independently in the computer sector.

From a Transition Town perspective, it seems absurd that such a large and equal number of commuters should effectively change places on a daily basis. In part this represents a disparity in the skills-base of the mobile workforces and those working in Reading tend to be of the more technically trained, while many who commute into London are office-workers. Thus, it might be concluded that Reading is not the ideal to become a Transition Town, but surely this situation is both unsustainable and temporary.

No one should underestimate the challenges that will confront us as we backcast from Transition Utopia - or as near to it as we can get - many of which are only now becoming apparent. Progress is somewhat slow, but time is not a resource we have in abundance, since the shortage of cheap oil will begin to urge itself upon our daily actions within the next five years. Thus, the daily commute will become inexorably expensive and indeed as the price of oil rises it is debatable whether those jobs in either London or Reading will still exist and certainly many of them are unlikely to survive the next couple of decades until 2030, by when local authorities and nations are planning to have active low-carbon or ideally zero-carbon initiatives in place as an integrated whole.

Transportation is a key issue but perhaps it is a close second to food production, which is intricately and inextricably enmeshed with the use and cost of crude oil, much of which we now import into the UK. All identifiable arrows point increasingly in the same direction, that of localisation, which curbs our dependence on oil by reducing the need for extensive and cheap transport, and from which is beginning to emerge the green shoots of the new brand of growth - not at the global level, but that which must rise at the level of localised communities. Community partnerships with local companies and local authorities will be a practical driver in this ultimate direction.

For now, the companies that are staffed by the daily force of commuters are generating useful income, and it would make sense to divert some of this bounty toward establishing local resilience, not as some form of charity but within business models that generate profit by building local and regional strength. By 2030, Reading will no longer be a commuter town nor a commuter importer, but there will be plenty of work closer to home in establishing a brave new deglobalised world. How exactly we accomplish this is an open and unfolding question, and while I doubt it will be easy it must be done, for by then there will be no other choice.

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