The pleasantness of where we live has a substantial impact on our psychological wellbeing. If we are surrounded by monotonous drab greys with little sign of greenery, no sense of variation and harmony, it affects us. We feel more drab ourselves. Too much of Scotland appears to have been built with little sense of what it would be like to live there, with street after street of rough grey rendering, and any sign of grass cut to within an inch of its life. Very often these are good, well-built houses (council housing is larger and of a better standard than much of the commercial housing sector) in strong communities. But they are seldom anyone's idea of an attractive environment.
Transforming these environments is not difficult. The houses can be painted – vibrant colours like Tobermory on Mull, or muted shades of sage and lavender. They could be re-rendered in modern finishes, or re-clad in wood. Modern paints and technologies have extremely long lives. Public land around houses can be landscaped with trees and flowers. Paths and fences can be revived and replaced. The places we live can be bright, attractive, enjoyable places to live. We do not need to tolerate grim.
A National Housing Policy Academy could develop a national plan for 'de-grimming' and revitalising the infrastructure of communities. People can be encouraged to think about what they'd like their community to look like. The new layer of genuinely local councils should be given the responsibility of asking every community, housing estate, and street, how they'd like to improve and revitalise their community. They would have to help in providing the labour, and the council would have to help in providing materials. The young unemployed can be given payments to encourage them to get involved (mentioned briefly in chapter ten). People can be trained to carry out much of the work themselves. This is not about removing the responsibility of existing authorities to maintain the social fabric, but about improving things beyond that basic responsibility. We think of Scotland as a beautiful country, but when we think of it we think of hills and glens and beaches, and sometimes of historic towns and parts of cities. Why do we accept that, when we think of Scotland as being beautiful, we seldom think of where we live? Why don't we change that?