12 Nov 2007
“Wizards of the Wacky West”. Groan.
Working with Transition Town Totnes, one so often sees the dilemma facing journalists, especially those from national newspapers, when covering TTT or events to do with the town. Do they go for the ‘Totnes woo-woo’ angle, emphasising the town’s alternative aspects, or do they resist that and look for what is actually happening and what is interesting about that? In the main, reporters have managed to resist, but in this weekend’s Telegraph, their property reporter just couldn’t quite help himself. The headline “Wizards of the Wacky West”, it would be fair to say, didn’t bode well. The article, which actually gave TTT some pretty fair(ish) coverage, dripped with references to Totnes having “more vegetarians per square yard than a Hindu tofu festival” and shops “peddlling stones and crystals and a Friday market that smells of marijuana and incense”. Groan.
For non-UK readers, it is worth remembering that the Daily Telegraph is the conservative Right’s paper of choice, chronicling a world where Thatcher is still Queen and resisting the Euro is a cause to die for. That the visiting reporter brought to the piece his own agenda can be seen in pieces such as “the pretty South Devon town on the River Dart with a population of about 9,000 is as trendy as an eco-carrier bag. Its reclusive, secular patron saint is the otherworldly singer Kate Bush, who has her home nearby”. Kate Bush? Patron Saint? He even struggled with the name of the project, the “Totnes Transitional Trust”.
Anyway, the article looked at property prices, the bane of most Totnesians lives, especially the younger ones. Indeed our recent Oil Vulnerability Audits showed that lack of affordable housing is one of the key vulnerabilities of the town, with the majority of the town’s essential workers living outside and needing to drive in. The article failed to ask the deeper questions about how sustainable these high prices are, how second home ownership has affected this, and what an actually sustainable affordable housing policy might look like. At least I wasn’t described as the ‘arch Wizard of Totnes’ or anything similarly ghastly!