Is growth the only answer for Croydon?

Shopping is our new zeitgeist, someone with more O levels than me once said.

He was right as well. Up to the mid to late 20th century it had been conflict – the two World Wars and the other battles like Korea and Vietnam that followed.

Consumerism, though, replaced the canons after someone worked out that we were all happier shuffling round the shops than we were being sent to slaughter.

Which brings us to Croydon, earmarked as the south east’s future shopping destination of choice.

The past four weeks have been – tram rant aside – positive for Croydon, with the announcement of major post-riot funding for regeneration, a Centrale upgrade and interest from Westfield.

Things appear, at last, to be happening.

The regeneration work the council has planned could act as a catalyst for further private sector investment. The sort that could lead to more jobs and the desperately needed removal of the redundant office blocks that blight parts of the town centre.

Interest from organisations like Westfield show that despite the stereotypes that surround Croydon there are very good reasons for doing business here.

But is growth the only answer?

Why can’t we make what we have already work? Is there anything to stop those redundant office blocks being replaced with new parks and open spaces, instead of retail space? It’s true that begonias and benches do not generate as many jobs and create as much wealth. It might, though, make Croydon a better place to live.

There are warning signs from elsewhere.

The Roman Empire collapsed under the strain of its insatiable appetite for expansion and there are more contemporary parallels closer to home.

Corby became the repossession capital of England earlier this year. After years of rapid growth things began to wobble and the bubble eventually burst.

There were 155 repossession orders made by the courts in the last financial year, or 7.6 out of every 1,000 privately owned homes.

See this Guardian story from July for more

And the local council’s solution to the local housing market collapse? To build more housing, of course. To expand its way out of trouble.

“Our strategy is based on increasing the population to generate wealth to increase prosperity,” Chris Mallender, chief executive of the borough council said. “We’re now the fastest growing borough in the country.”

Admittedly comparing Croydon with ancient Rome and Corby is a bit like comparing Jeremy Clarkson with a serious social commentator.

But why is growth the only way? We’d be interested to know if alternatives have been considered, and if they have what those alternatives were.

What happens when we get bored of shops? Will the redundant office blocks be replaced by redundant shopping centres? Answers on a postcard please.

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