Certainly, material wealth can make even the inner city bearable, but a childhood deserves better than that.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions, they say. Good intentions and whatever became of them is what describes the city, the urban cardboard box living spaces stacked up, full of the shallow depths of lives half-lived in high rises reaching out to a sky that doesn’t answer, perhaps mistaken for heaven, perhaps simply a way to occupy more space once the ground was able to give no more.
The city, though compared often to the jungle, knows no natural pace – no afternoon rainfall, not even night or day, just break neck speed for those who get caught up in its mesmerizing neon lights.
Rural life integrates its outcasts, in a way, but the urban world is one where the outcasts gather to carve out a space of their own, normality now something up to them to define. A noise that cannot be turned off, only turned down, attracts lost souls, adventurers, young ones just starting out in life, eager to get lost in the flow of an ant hive that knows no queen.
But the same night air vibrant with opportunity confines its products to this artificial space, when the cubicle becomes an all-encompassing box hard to think outside of.
The city is a reflection of the way of man, but the wise man always finds his way out of it again.
The urbanite of today never leaves out a chance to make it known that we’re missing out if we don’t relocate to one of the urban centers of our respective countries. Usually, however, there is at least a tacit admission that this changes once you have children – a fact made evident, at least in this country, by the trend of young couples buying affordable plots of land or even old farms in the countryside to raise their children outside of the urban environment.
But recently, some of the more ideological city-dwellers have started preaching to the world that even for your children, there’s no better place to be than in a relatively confined space with thousands of other atomized individuals.
Guardian columnist Tim Lott is one of them. In his recent piece, he claims that “Remote Scottish islands and monocultural English villages lack the nourishing racial diversity and cultural richness that big cities offer”. The presumable reason for his article was a survey that found rural, relatively secluded communities to be the best places to raise children in in the entirety of Great Britain.
I have no idea why anyone in their right mind would want to raise children in any of these places, so cut off from the rest of the world that the children would be largely socialised by livestock. These survey results are usually arrived at by using a series of indices such as school class size, population density and traffic levels. As if a tiny school class and no other people or cars around amounts to a good quality of life. This fits in with the general British prejudice suggesting that heaven amounts to getting as far away from other people as possible.
This is what much of his argument amounts to – nobody who knows what’s good for them (read: enlightened urbanites) would voluntarily find themselves in a place that is more defined by farms and tree lines than by whether there’s a Pakistani-owned mobile phone shop or Starbucks around the next corner.
It’s always easy to present some boring, hard general facts as to why people would rather live in more remote areas:
But not only that. The above mentioned subtitle of the article already tells us that ethnic diversity is a net positive for a childhood environment. Research says otherwise, such as Robert Putnam’s landmark study, which found “that in ethnically diverse neighbourhoods residents of all races tend to ‘hunker down’. Trust (even of one’s own race) is lower, altruism and community cooperation rarer, friends fewer”. Lower trust means you’ll think twice about letting your children play outside by themselves, less of a chance of actually having a functioning neighborhood network in which people look after each other and much greater worries about why your daughter hasn’t gotten home for dinner yet.
Having recently experienced Paris, London and Berlin first hand, where you often hardly even hear the local language on the streets or on public transport, our cities are becoming more and more foreign and feel less like part of the country they’re supposedly located in. The thought of going to a school where this is the case will make most people shudder, but it is a grim reality for many today. From the article, it reads like its author can afford to get away from the worst of this (physical distance to the ground zeroes of diversity tends to be a defining factor of diversity-advocates). But for the rest of us, who can’t afford a nice city home in a nice city area with affluent neighbors and price tags making sure things will stay that way, it’s not exactly a desirable experience.
The other thing that covertly underlies these surveys is implied racism. Nearly all the hallowed locations are overwhelmingly monocultural. In a different 2017 survey listing the top 20 places for families in England and Wales, if you held a theoretical sieve under some of the locations and shook out all the BAME children, you would probably get about 25 tops in each place. […] What children really need is variety, community, choice and opportunity – not lots of people with the same coloured skin, acres of grass and a wealth of fascinating people who look and behave exactly like you.
We’ve already established that community suffers in diverse, urban areas. Of course, everyone preferring high trust, tightly-knit communities of people whose cultural background and customs you can actually relate to must be the dreaded r-word. I’ll freely admit – I too wish to live in a monocultural community, especially at the point in my life when I will be raising children. And the smug worship of the other professed by the author and others like him fails to grasp the essentials of why this is a choice the vast majority of humans on this planet would make.
The assumption that Britain’s (or Europe’s) native population is a bland, white uniform mass with nothing to offer to a child discovering the world not only forgets, but deliberately erases the great variety of local cultures, customs and walks of life their culture has to offer. Propagating the idea that like me equals bad, or is at the very least lacking, sets up a child for a lifetime of identity crisis and desiring a wholeness that only the stranger can possess. It is a damaging mindset, unless one considers children with no idea who they are but an envy of who everyone else is to be a success. Do we not need to become versed and fluent in our own culture before we can truly appreciate the other? Such a process of becoming who we are requires growing up in a place where England is still unapologetically England, rather than an undefinable, guilt-ridden, post-modern accumulation of things and people physically located in a place that once knew what it was.
And what about nature? No amount of “museums and theatres, many of them subsidised, free or cheap” can make up for the experience of freedom and exploration a group of boys will take home from an afternoon spent in the forests of their village. It has real life health benefits too, as any expert on allergies will confirm.
The question of where to raise our children is one that will eventually confront many of us. I will passionately make the case for the countryside. Based on my own experience (Never did I feel anything was lacking, people actually knew each other, there was a sense of community and a great wealth of positive experiences, identity and wonderful memories), but also on principles. We are able to make a difference. Not for everyone, but for those whom we bring into this world. In an age of dissolution and decay of culture, identity and cohesion, we should let our children grow up not in the epicenter of a regretful transformation, but in the kind of world we want to preserve for them – quiet, safe, with a sense of identity, so they too can develop an idea of what is worth preserving. Also a sense of continuity, which puts one’s existence into the context of hundreds of years of ancestry and tradition that led to one’s own generation and those that will follow it. Strengthened by this, it will be much easier to resist the currents of our times that seek to turn man into an atomized thing with an economic value and little more than that.
The places places where that can still be found are the villages and small towns that are all too easily cast aside by those who have embraced all that is bad about the city of today. Perhaps the grown individual can put up with the fractured, materialist reality of Metropolis, but children deserve better.