This week: what do you do with a dead resort town; everything my dog has barked hysterically at; and Great Britain’s building density, mapped.
I have spent much of the last week on holiday. We were meant to go abroad, but that didn’t happen because of a last minute passport issue which was not in any way the fault of the British government, which is of course the most annoying sort of last minute passport issue. And we were scrambling for an emergency affordable UK-based alternative, and I have a lot of happy childhood memories of West Country seasides, and I remembered where Fawlty Towers was set, so I thought: why not Torquay?
It is gorgeous. The town is built around three sides of a bay, on the plushest side of which the streets meander their way up the cliffs to beautiful villas and some of the most stunning coastal scenery I’ve ever encountered in England. The beaches are small, but clean and picturesque, with lots of rocks to climb on if you have the urge, like the beaches you’d get in an Enid Blyton story in which some winsome children defeat some smugglers while also being casually racist.
And our hotel, the Grand, was right next to the station, with glorious views across Tor Bay. (The name of the bay is two words; the name of the conurbation and unitary council is just one. Don’t say I never teach you anything.) You could immediately see how glamorous a resort this was in the age of, say, Agatha Christie, whose face, as the town’s most famous daughter, is plastered all over it.
But one of the many ways in which CityMetric, the New Statesman urbanism website I created and edited for six years, broke my brain is by giving me an obsession with local economics. Bill Bryson, who until he became NIMBY-in-chief was something of a hero of mine, is capable of wandering round a new place and enjoying the landscape and architecture and history without ever seeming to worry about how people here pay their bills. I lost that ability sometime around 2015, and I couldn’t help but notice: this place is stuffed.
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