|Hillman article (long article)||MJ|
Nov 4, 2002 3:20 AM
A chain reaction
For 30 years Mayer Hillman has been busily turning conventional political thinking on its head. From road safety to renewable energy, he has come up with solutions that are hard to dismiss. Which is probably why you've never heard of him
Saturday November 2, 2002
Clip this article. Photocopy it, send it to a friend, file it. In 10 years' time, if the person it's about is right (and doubt doesn't figure in his lexicon), you'll be amazed that the views it expresses ever seemed outlandish or unfeasible. What sounds now like wild ecotopian fantasy will have turned into an unexceptionable statute governing daily life.
Mayer Hillman is no self-promoting Jeremiah, nor does he wear a sandwich board, though admittedly he does disdain red (and all other) meat and believe that the end (of the western lifestyle as we know it) is nigh. In fact, he is a radical green social scientist, an exhilaratingly original thinker who generates more energy from his small frame than seems electromagnetically possible.
Hillman is unfazed by polite ridicule: he has met it so often before. Propositions that seemed absurdly unachievable at the time he expounded them are now green commonplaces, if not official policy. As far back as 1972, he was speaking out against the granting of planning permission to hypermarkets and large out-of-town retail stores because of their environmental costs, their detrimental effect on small shops, and the way they discriminated against those without cars. John Gummer, then secretary of state for the environment, ruled against awarding further planning permission for out-of-town shopping centres in 1995. In 1984, Hillman proposed energy audits and thermal ratings for buildings. The Abbey National building society adopted it as policy the following year. I remember him audaciously suggesting, more than 20 years ago, that road intersections should be raised to pavement level to give priority to pedestrians - something local authorities have started to introduce over the past decade. And in 1979, he and Anne Whalley inveighed against the way that national transport data ignored journeys of less than a mile, most of them walking, and concentrated only on private and public motorised transport. Fifteen years later, walking had been added to the official research agenda, in words that might have come straight out of Hillman and Whalley's report. The festschrift of birthday letters published on his 70th birthday last year was aptly entitled Ahead Of Time.
Indeed, so influential has Hillman's thinking been on certain issues that strangers sometimes quote it back at him, oblivious to the fact that he was its originator. Nowhere more so than in the case of children and road safety. Hillman it was (along with John Adams and John Whitelegg) who, in the massively influential 1991 One False Move... A Study Of Children's Independent Mobility, alerted us to the reduction in children's freedom because of the increase in traffic. While in 1971, 80% of seven- and eight-year-old children went to school on their own, by 1990 only 9% were making the journey unaccompanied, with more than four times as many seven- to 11-year-olds being driven in 1990 compared with 20 years earlier.
Hillman doesn't just stand official thinking on its head - he gives it a double somersault and a triple lutz. In One False Move, he revealed that the department of transport's view that the roads are safer because the accident rate has gone down is deeply flawed, in that it measures accidents and not danger. The number of children killed on the roads did indeed fall - from 1,000 in 1971 to 400 in 1990 - but that doesn't prove that the roads have become safer. Quite the opposite. Child road deaths have fallen because there aren't many children near them any more. Roads are now such perilous places that fearful parents have dr