Holiday Villages Shouldn't Be For Holidays

Living amongst the trees, if only this was the norm.
When I first found out I was going to be dragged to a Center Parcs with the in-laws, to say I was unimpressed would be an understatement. My uneducated view up until a few weeks ago was that Center Parcs was where middle-class families went to spend excessive amounts of money on sub-par holidays and that's a view that hasn't changed with experience.

Let me just explain for a minute; a week there will cost you over a thousand pounds outside of the peak holiday period, and for that price all you get is accommodation and access to the swimming pool area, everything else available on site is an added extra. This might sound understandable but when you discover that petting an owl can cost £10 per person, you can see how quickly entertaining a young family can rack up a hefty bill especially considering you're a captive audience. My family was there for a whole week so you can imagine how the free pool access got a bit stale by the end. Not spending money on additional activities here is not really an option if you have bored children.

Additionally the price of food and drinks is insulting, with the onsite franchised restaurants, shops and bars selling their usual stock at way inflated prices.

The issue of pricing isn't exactly a novel complaint, there have been many, many complaints about Center Parc's exploitative business model, especially during the summer holidays, but the company itself accepts that it's target audience is "affluent families", and with a profit of £70m in 2017 and £58m in 2018, I suppose from a capitalist point of view you can't really blame them for fleecing people with more money than sense.
If you can convince yourself that money isn't an issue you still have to put up with gangs of feral children cycling at speed everywhere, whizzing through zebra crossings as your children are trying to cross the road, not that I have issues with bicycles, its just I've never been a big fan of cyclists. Being surrounded by them for a week was my idea of hell.

As you might expect, I'm not Center Parc's biggest fan. It's certainly not my idea of a holiday, but then again in their defence my children enjoyed themselves so I suppose that's what really matters. I on the other hand spent the entire week at their Woburn site day dreaming about how perfect their setting would be if you lived there permanently like an eco-village, just you know, without all the money problems.

Imagine, if instead of shops and waterpark's this landscape sported
places of work, hospitals and schools.
You might be scratching your head thinking "why would you choose to live somewhere that you hate", but the actual site is very pleasant. The lodges are small but comfortable with large, open plan living spaces that are perfect for families, each having upwards of three bedrooms. Whilst less comfortable than say a typical three bedroom semi, it would be adequate and function well as a permanent abode so long as you had some sort of basement or attic for additional storage. Being smaller they'd be easier to heat and if we're building them today could be made a hell of a lot more efficient than than a lot of the traditional brick and mortar that we're used to. Additionally I suspect that having a large communal area would improve family life a great deal and produce a much better communal feeling than most homes do that generally shut family members away from one another.

I would say that having these smaller homes would increase the number you could build in an area, but that's not really the point because the outside would the best part about it. The lodges are arranged along single track, one-way streets that adhere to the contours of the land. Cars are only allowed to be parked on these roads whilst people are packing or unpacking their stuff, so aside from the occasional staff vehicle there is no traffic going past your door and as a consequence it's very peaceful. In the centre of this network of streets and one way roads lies the large indoor swimming pool, shops and the gym etc, which all easily within cycling or walking distance.
Between these man-made networks of footpaths, streets and buildings stand huge Douglas Fir trees, left behind by the land's previous use as a timber farm. On the forest floor native shrubs, flowers, bracken and saplings are slowly taking back the artificial woodland and all this adds up to it being a haven for wildlife. To Center Parc's credit, when they took over the site at Woburn a few years ago they employed a good ecological management scheme immediately felling 10% of the existing trees they had on site to let in more light for the forest floor and planted hundreds of native trees. As a consequence in my short stay I saw Spotted Woodpeckers, Stonechats, Quail, Pheasants, Hares, Rabbits, Hedgehogs and even a few Weasels. We actually had a couple of visitors to our patio door in an evening begging for food (as it happens Squirrel and Pheasants both love Frosties, in case you ever need to know.)

In any case, having painted the scene I'm sure its obvious how positive living in such an environment would be for people. If this were a town I'm fairly confident it would have the lowest rates for stress and depression simply because of the almost symbiotic lifestyle people would have with the land. If people were anchored to the town with jobs and education all within a short walk or cycling distance I suspect there would arise a greater degree of community too, which would again hopefully mitigate many of the causes of mental health issues that modern society has inadvertently created. Physical health would also increase too with walking and cycling around, with the decreased reliance on cars and transport in general lowering CO2 emissions and improving air quality (so long as everybody refrains from using woodburners.)

If as is the case at Center Parcs, cars had to be left in a communal car park a good few miles from where the people live, and instead of gyms and swimming pools there was workplaces and schools in a central hub, I really think it would end the need for privately owned cars. Perhaps trams or trains could create links between settlements, and with the eventual introduction of AI and more useful 3D printing applications, maybe most transport could be eradicated altogether with such a system.

Living along side nature instead
of separating ourselves from it
would benefit us all.
The problem with these ideas though is that there are too many people for everybody to live in such a utopic setting. Such settlements with wide open spaces and a balance with nature would, under current circumstances, only be available to a few and wealthy - the rest of us presumably would have to be bundled in tower blocks or underground. The thing is with the foreseeable rise in disruptive technologies and the growing precariousness of the environment, at some point in the near future our entire lifestyle, society and expectations are going to have to change.

So maybe after humanity has begun to recover from the looming cataclysm which, lets be honest looks more and more likely as time goes on, we can begin to look at places like this for inspiration, but until we've come out of the other side of that cataclysm we're stuck with policies that espouse the total opposite of a harmonic existence, that espouse measures more geared towards the survival of a economic and societal system that created all these problems in the first place. For now such a model for living will remain an expensive resort for the pretentious, but hopefully with time humanity as a whole will gravitate towards an altogether more holistic way of life.


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