Lap Dancing vs the Local Economy: Two Different Approaches to Recession

Image credit: The Telegraph
Conservative Newspaper Eyes Transition Movement
Only recently I was writing about Leo Hickman's concerns that the Transition Movement might remain a marginalized, left-leaning throw back to hippy days. Yet evidence keeps mounting that this community-led response to peak oil and climate change is uniting folks across all kinds of political and cultural divides. Take a recent article on the financial crisis in the conservative-leaning Telegraph newspaper, which explores how two towns are responding to recession in very different ways. It's a journey that takes in lap dancing, $3000 bags, and local currency. And the result is a highly favorable exploration of the end of luxury. In the first of a three-part series, Telegraph correspondent Mick Brown visited Chester, a formerly affluent town full of aspirational stores, and Totnes, somewhat of a hippy haven, and birthplace of the Transition Movement. The resulting article argues that the recession may very well spell the end of limitless growth and mark a return to a more balanced, connected way of life.

Brown's first stop was Chester in the North West, where luxury boutiques and high street chains had given way to lap dancing clubs and empty storefronts. (The lap dancing club is even being promoted by a former stockbroker who has moved on to more reliable source of income!) The visit results in some highly reflective musings from the Telegraph correspondent on the future of luxury in troubled times:

I took the train back to London thinking about that Marc Jacobs handbag. Once upon a time, not so very long ago, the thought of anyone but film stars or the wives of plutocrats spending £1,500 on such an item would have seemed absurd. But in recent years, the £1,500 handbag has become almost egalitarian. We have very short memories. It seems almost impossible to remember a time before schoolchildren expected to wear £100 trainers; before eye-wateringly expensive home-entertainment systems, second and third homes, and two foreign holidays a year – before hitherto undreamt of luxuries came to seem like entitlements. Where once we shopped to live, for the past 30 years it has seemed as if we have lived to shop, embracing the philosophy of unbridled consumption and expenditure, a belief in what became known as 'consumer confidence’ – the willingness of ordinary people to spend more than they had ever done before, and more than they could ever possibly afford, lulled by the assurances that we were living in an economy immune to the cycle of boom and bust.

Brown then hops on a train to Totnes, the aforementioned birthplace of the Transition Movement, and seems genuinely inspired by the tight-knit community and its collective efforts to stave off recession. Of course the movement is not without it's own problems - Brown notes that the Totnes pound seems to attract more theoretical support than it does wide circulation, and also suggests that there may be a little rose-tinted nostalgia at play for an imagined past. But ultimately, he gives credit where credit is due - and it is great to see newspapers like the Telegraph entertaining the idea that economic growth at all costs may not be the only way out of the mess we are in. Here's more from Brown on how a different economy might look:

Critics will detect in all this a fanciful nostalgia for an imagined golden past of harvesting with scythes and delivering goods by horse-drawn cart – and argue that the world has grown too small for any community, even one as agreeable as Totnes, to pull up the drawbridge. It is also hard to see how such a model would work in a large urban and industrial area such as Birmingham or Manchester.

But Andrew Simms of the New Economics Foundation believes we face a stark choice: 'What the high street will look like in the future depends on how we respond to the range of challenges we are faced with now – whether or not the recession becomes a full-blown depression with long-lasting unemployment, and whether we react against being turned into passive consumers and start to do things for ourselves. You could have a distinctly more characterful and vibrant high street where you’re not just going to shop, but where there are centres to learn new skills to do with urban agriculture and making the home energy-efficient, where you’re tapping into people’s entrepreneurial spirit and laying the economic foundations for a vibrant, diverse local economy with lots of local businesses, creating a community that has learnt to talk to itself again.’

The full article, entitled Financial Crisis: High Noon on the High Street, is well worth a read. And if you'd like to learn more about the Transition Movement, take a look at some of the links below.

Further Reading on Transition Towns
In Transition: The Transition Movement Documentary
Planet Green's Green Glossary: Transition Towns
Transition Towns Reach the US
The Times Newspaper on Transition Towns and ‘Apocalypse Now’
Transition Towns and Cities Emerge in the US
Transition Towns New Zealand Gains Strength
Transition Towns Reach Japan
Transition Towns Reach New Zealand
Transition Town Plants Up Nut Trees for Food Security
Interview with Rob Hopkins, founder of the movement
Transition City Bristol
The Transition Handbook
Transition Towns Reach Australia
The Virtual Orchard Project

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