Years ago there were communities. There was a shop on the corner of every other street, a post office down the road, a pharmacy five minutes walk away, a cafe in the next street… There was no way for people to travel quickly to larger towns or cities so everything had to be located in the neighbourhood. Then came the car.
From the moment that cars came within the reach of the average family, communities have faded away. It was possible now to get to places so much quicker. Global companies could build vast supermarkets on the edges of cities and everyone could reach them in less than ten minutes. There was no need for the corner shop anymore, no need for the local post office or pharmacy, and so they gradually disappeared. At the gigantic superstores you could get everything under the same roof and there was easy, free parking.
So why is that such a bad trend? If supermarkets are cheap and convenient, why is that a negative thing? Maybe because, along with the cheapness and the convenience comes de-humanisation. When the shops, cafes, butchers and pharmacies were located in our local communities, we knew the people who worked and shopped there because they were our neighbours. When we’re shopping at the superstore we rarely see anyone we know because they’ve travelled from a much wider region to shop there. We’re no longer amongst our neighbours. So we don’t say hello, we don’t pause for a chat, most often we don’t speak at all. We even start to get irritated if someone does try to have a conversation especially if they are in front of us in the queue at the checkout. Tutting and sighing is the nearest we get to an interaction. The superstores get bigger as the local communities shrivel out of existence. It’s not really the fault of the supermarkets; they’re just responding to our demands. The really dangerous factor is the availability of the car.
So there’s no hope? We’re doomed to see the destruction of local communities because we can all jump in the car and nip to the supermarket? Not necessarily. The car has become so popular that it’s becoming a victim of its own success. We’re starting to find that we can’t nip to Asda quite so quickly because there’s a traffic jam on the ring road, we can’t pop down to Tesco because there’s tailbacks all the way back to the motorway. So maybe the car is starting to fail to provide the wonderful freedom and mobility that it used to. When it becomes the norm to sit in a queue for half and hour to get to Sainsbury’s, perhaps we’ll start to think that walking to a corner shop would be a better option. Maybe the corner shops will start to reappear along with all the other local amenities. A feeling of community could start to return. The car will have driven us round in a great big circle.