Theatre in Wales

Commentary and extended critical writing on theatre, dance and performance in Wales

Geography, Migration and Culture

Things That Matter Across the Arts of Wales

Two snails who live in adjoining valleys a few miles apart have less genetic overlap than does the whole of humanity.

Humans migrate. They mingle their DNA and snails do not. The movements of people are inevitable and mappable. There is little that governments can do. The government of China has its “hukou” system which excludes migrants to the cities from access to most public services. As a policy of inhibition it has made no difference. The lure of the cities was so great that it prompted the greatest migration in history. The result is manifest. China in 2019 accounted for 16% of world output; fifteen years before it was 4%.

As in China so in the rest of the world. Since 1991 20,000 villages in Russia have been abandoned. Another 35,000 communities have fewer than ten inhabitants. 80% of the counties in the USA are losing working-age population, the population drops concentrated in the north-east and mid-west.

All the peripheral territories of Europe are losing people. The villages of Transylvania and the Bukovina are now disproportionately inhabited by the old. The working population in Bulgaria has dropped by 6% in a decade and the loss is accelerating. It will drop by another third by 2050. The workforce in Spain and Italy will shrink by more than a quarter between now and 2050.

Wales cannot escape its own demographic destiny because it is universal. The population in aggregate is set to drop. That above the Usk and Teifi line will fall and age faster than that below. The reason never changes. Cities are the generators of prosperity. It is algorithmic. Every doubling of size creates a fifteen percent increase in everything from output to incidence of crime. Cardiff has added 70,000 people in the last 20 years. Since 2014 five out of six new jobs have been created in Cardiff.

In 2015 Tim Marshall had a surprise hit of a book called “Prisoners of Geography”. Nations and their governments are indeed its prisoners. The political effects of population movement across Europe are already in place. The politics of Thuringia are causing shock-waves. Its population drop has been also a gender phenomenon, young women in the lead. An under-educated cohort of young men is politically combustible.

But public policy can only go so far. The network effect of the city is unstoppable. Policy responses are various. In Tulsa, Oklahoma a foundation is offering $10,000 and work space to those who move to the city for at least a year. In Vermont the government pays $7500 to cover the moving costs for migrants who move to the state to work for local employers. But public policy can only go so far. The network effect of the city is unstoppable. La France profonde is no more. The French are agglomerating in six expanded urban regions.

The populations in the west and north of Wales peaked in the census of 1871. The gradual decline ever since has reached a political conclusion. The political map, at least in terms of representation, has returned to the contours of eight hundred years ago. The marshy terrain, where the station of Dyfi Junction now stands, was the meeting-place of three medieval monarchies. Today it is junction of three party colours, Plaid to the west, Conservative to the east. The Labour Party, with the exception of Alyn and Deeside, is an impregnable southern urban stronghold.

The draining of young people has a cultural impact that is deep. Yr hen Iaith is in much the same position as were many of the minority languages of Europe 150 years ago. The laws are inviolable. Milk can be stirred into the cup of coffee. It cannot be stirred out. The languages that survived from the Adriatic to the Baltic did so due to their movement from country to city. To facilitate that requires a tough-mindedness. All this places on the framers of cultural policy some considerable challenge. It also offers wide scope for subject matter in theatre and fiction that is expressive of the reality of a Wales-that-is.

author:Adam Somerset

original source:
12 January 2020


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