Cities have always needed leather, but they have never fitted together very well. As cities evolved, they soon pushed leathermaking out. Before long, most manufacturing was despatched to the suburbs or regional towns to be replaced by service industries related to things like finance and insurance along with hospitality and tourism.
In many major cities, housing too moved to satellite towns our outskirt zones with little more than investment properties for the super-rich to park some of their wealth often leaving them empty.
Post-pandemic, the idea of a city that separates work from housing has changed. Hybrid and home working have emptied many cities in Europe and the U.S. and those working one or two days in the office per week remain below pre-Covid days. Cities are working hard at a more inclusive re-invention.
Innovation and creativity
In the past, when cities were places where people lived as well as worked, they were dynamic places that encouraged innovation and creativity and increased individual wealth and national GDP.
In those cities where everything was mixed up, rather than broken into quite widely separated districts, the “30-minute” concept was recognised. Everyday requirements for health, shopping and entertainment can be met within a 30-minute walk, or now with a bicycle or scooter ride, of home. Having lived in both Florence and Paris during my career, I have seen how this works and the immense value it offers.
Many people moved away from the biggest cities after feeling at risk during periods of lockdown, and they have discovered how good life is in small towns that you might rate as tier three or four. There are many truly wonderful places like this around the world: without the commute, so people have more time to spend on work and on their families and demonstrating the advantages of the 30-minute city.
This starts to fit with the thinking of the geographer Danny Dorling who suggested in 2013 that a city would be better defined by including its hinterland in which there will be several smaller towns. His favoured example is Tokyo where the Greater Tokyo area includes mountains and islands along with the city of Yokohama and the more industrial cities of Kawasaki and Chiba. With superb public transport, this region is tightly integrated.
Dorling thinks these cities and their hinterlands, each adding up to about 32 million people, would become the norm and that with various types of agglomerations, both tightly structured such as Tokyo or less so like Chongqing, by mid-century we would have a global population peaking around nine billion made up of about 280 such “cities plus their hinterlands”.
China has gone for much larger city areas, using high-speed trains in the Greater Shanghai area and around the Pearl River delta, but the general concept still stands. Each such area should have plenty of space for one or more major tanneries, and a variety of locations for both factories and craft centres working with leather. Santa Croce and Florence, Alcanena as well as S. João de Madeira and Oporto are two typical European examples, from among many others.
The task now is to make all cities more liveable, and more affordable for all sections of society needed to make them function and more environmentally secure, recognising that with a reduced need for office space, there is an opportunity to create a more rounded seven-day environment in many of our ancient cities that have become dominated by wealth, work and the automobile. Many city workers with families have found a happier existence in the smaller towns and will travel to the major city only two or three days a week.
Increasingly, trains and buses have been turning to leather as the best low maintenance long-lasting durable material for upholstery and all manner of public transport can now be targeted as vandalism with knives and razors has been diminished with security cameras and the like. The plastic worry with its short-term life, but long-term issues, is now being acknowledged so, in this area as in others, positive moves are needed.
Leather should have a place in our lives
The new working environments mean social spaces such as coffee shops are now significant venues for meetings and a third space for working – again, targets for leather. A look at the Instagram page of Bill Amberg Studio demonstrates the growing demand for leather in public buildings and spaces.
Leather ceilings, walls, floors, desk and tabletops along with other features are routinely being put into restaurants, retail shops, lobbies and lecture theatres by this upmarket UK designer. As well as warmth, great touch and a beautiful look, leather offers a great acoustic to counter the tinny reverberating noise of modern structures.
More city cycling and walking emphasises the importance of a good pair of repairable shoes, and some fine gloves along with a much wider variety of bags and cases required to add to the historic briefcase and document holder: and of course, every self-respecting city cyclist should have a leather saddle.
Finally, it is about time that more lightweight inter-seasonal jackets start to be offered in lightweight leathers and brighter colours. With a reduction in the use of formal business attire smart casual dress that includes more soft, luxurious leather should have a much big place in our lives.
Follow Dr Mike Redwood on Twitter: @michaelredwood
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