Friday, 7 December 2007

What Location, Location, Location really means

Imagine a TV programme about football. It’s full of people who talk about football and millions of people watch it because they’re interested in football. But it’s called Play, Play, Play and no-one ever mentions the word “football.”

Without knowing for sure (a consistent thread in my blogs) I think the term “Location, location, location” is the answer to, “What are the three most important things to remember when buying a house?” It became a cliché, and then a very successful TV programme on Channel 4.

It isn’t the format of the programme that bothers me, though I’m not a fan. It’s the fact that this phrase and the TV programme are a perpetuation of a hidden code.

When looking for somewhere to live, location isn’t actually that important. It’s been a long time since we lived according to proximity to water, food or the quality of the soil. A small number of people are lucky enough to choose somewhere according to the view or the scenery but most of us live and move within urban or sub-urban areas – and these areas are much the same, wherever they are.

The most important thing for most of us when choosing where to live is an area’s social status. And when we talk about social status we’re talking about the neighbours – people.

Location, Location, Location's recent list (October 2007) of the best and worse places to live in the UK was based on statistics. They included average rainfall or hours of sunlight but it was mainly crime, unemployment and health statistics, number of people claiming benefits and average local income. These are not assessments of an area. They’re assessments of the people living there.

It seems odd that we know exactly what we’re actually talking about, yet no-one mentions it by name. Let’s be honest. We’re talking about whether somewhere can be called home due to class, education, ethnicity, income and aspirations. We all do it, so why are we so afraid to call a spade a spade?

It's an example of how confused we all are about class and social status. It's also an example of how ideas of who is better than who prevail, and how taboo the subject of class has become. No matter how often mainstream political parties talk about classless societies, in truth, it's the last thing they want. We live in a very competitive world and status anxiety (to borrow Alain de Botton's phrase) is one of the ways we are encouraged to keep trying, buying and consuming.

The point of our economic and social system is to keep people unsatisfied. Inequality is vital, as is the feeling that we are being watched, judged and ultimately not quite good enough. If you have a mobile phone that works and fits in your pocket, why would you want to 'upgrade'? If you have enough clothes, why would you buy more? If you live in a city, why would you drive a Land Rover Discovery? If your child is learning to walk, why would you give them Nike trainers? And why don't see joggers anymore without an effing iPod strapped to their arm?? It's a code and a language and we're all fluent speakers.

I'd like us to be aware that we are making judgements according to class and status. Next time you meet someone new at a party, a meeting or anywhere else, ask yourself what you've learnt. In seconds, you'll have formed a first impression of where they are from, their economic background, their level of education and ultimately where they are on the social ladder. The other person has done the same to you - and we all want to make a good first impression.

It's exactly the same process when you're looking for somewhere to live. And these are the great un-mentionables behind Location, Location, Location. Not Phil's speech impediment or Kirstie's weight problem, but the status codes required to find the right place to live in a country and system riddled with status anxiety. Maybe Status, Status, Status would be a better title?

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