We continue with global issues in the geography lesson tomorrow. Population distribution and urbanisation have been among the issues we have addressed. Students living in a seaside town wondered why people would want to live in vast cities. They would presumably have enjoyed Local Hero.
Local Hero was an iconic film of the 1980s. Set in the Western Isles of Scotland, it suggests there is something idyllic in the isolation. The plans to bring industry and change to the place are blocked by the man who owns the beach; and the American industrialist who was behind the plans comes to the beach himself and discovers a place of tranquility and beauty. Life in remote and isolated spots is presented as something to be desired. Such rural communities are seen as full of warm and engaging country people, along with refugees from city life who realized the superiority of simple things, and a sprinkling eccentric characters who painted or wrote books.
It never occurred to me to question the received wisdom, that the good life was to be found in the most remote places, until travelling through Manila on a September Sunday evening in 2001.
Flying into the vast metropolis on a domestic flight, a Catholic bishop offered a lift to a hotel in Quezon City. Manila was buzzing with activity, as it always is. The bishop’s driver negotiated the traffic with infinite patience.
Underneath a flyover that carried a major road, there were families camped under shelters made for cardboard and tin.
“Bishop, where do these people come from?”
“They come from the country and they stay in places like this until they find something better”.
“But why come to the city to live such a life?”
“Because in the city there are services and there is a chance of work”.
“But what services have they living under a bridge?”
“They haven’t less here than they would have in the country”.
It was baffling, how could living under a bridge be better? The people obviously believed it was better to be here than the places they had left.
Whatever the attractions of rural isolation, there is a huge vote with the feet for city life. It is about more than jobs. Cities have a far greater pulling power than any rural community. Remote isolation makes a good story and a nice place for a holiday, practical living for most people demands much more prosaic places. Local Hero was a nice story, but incorrect geography.