Friday, June 29, 2012

LEGO lessons - by Daddy J

WHEN A child-oriented Scandiplan was first mooted, LEGOLAND was the first place on my hit list. A huge fan of Lego ever since my underage urban planning days, I've always assumed Lego towns to be faithful replicas of Nordic city life: thoughtfully laid out streets, old-fashioned shops, and ubiquitous emergency services. When Londoners moan about London it's normally because it's not Lego enough. And travelling around Scandinavia, it's clear that if the ideal small town or manageable-sized city life that we idealise so much still exists anywhere, it's up here. 
Yet ironically, for me, our visit to LEGOLAND actually threw the limits of the Nordic model into sharper focus. Because what lies at the heart of LEGOLAND, amid the pint-sized monorails and nobbly-bricked replicas of Hanseatic streets? LEGOREDO: the plastic piece people's homage to the harsh individualism of the Old West, complete with right-angled Rushmore. 
And which ride did Louis (and all the other kids) want to do most (alas he was too young this time)? The Lego driving school of course. Bikes and buses might turn on enviro-snobs like us but everyone from the Beatles to the Beach Boys to the good people at Volvo (hi guys!) knows that the car is still the most exciting invention in the history of mankind. Pootling around Copenhagen with the kids up front in the Christiania bike was fun for sure, but the biggest thrill of the trip for me was a stunning 300km meander along the snowy hairpins high above the Norwegian fjords. I really hope the well-planned cities of Scandinavia do offer a model for future urban life in favouring buses and bikes but LEGOLAND made me wonder if that's the case. 
Above all, the place is an exercise in nostalgia. It's not just the grown ups groping at memories of childhood happiness with every entrance fee or box of bricks they shell out for. The replica landmarks themselves seem to be the faded project of a more innocent time. LEGOLAND has now expanded beyond the street scenes and famous feats of civil engineering rendered in plastic bits that made up the original park. The newest sections feature two giant rollercoasters of the kind found in theme parks the world over. And the two coolest Lego models I remember seeing as a kid - Concorde and the Shuttle - are weather-beaten and a little forlorn, their real-life counterparts discontinued. The greatest inventions of my adult life - the Internet, GPS, the mobile phone - are already miniature if not invisible and certainly beyond replication in pimply rectangles. 
So the irony is that while the ciabattaring liberals of London like ourselves fawn over everything Scandinavian, viewed up close Nordic life and it's Lego replica are both deeply old-fashioned and, whisper it, conservative. And while life here is certainly good and possibly the best, it took a wannabe-actor waitress in Copenhagen to perfectly express the downsides of the Scandinavian way of life which we'd started to wonder even existed. Because people are so genuinely happy here, she said, nobody ever wants to do anything differently, to stand out, to strike out on their own. For that, she added, you need to go to America. In Copenhagen a waitress will always be a waitress, only in big old gas-guzzling America can a waitress talk of future movie stardom without being told to get a contented life. 
We admire Scandinavian society because of its equality, but only those who know they will never be the best stand to gain from an equal society. What if inequality - and its (cloakroom) attendant unhappiness - is not such a bad thing? Inequality breeds restlessness and restless people learn, explore, invent. Before coming on this trip I was pretty sure of at least one thing - I want my children to grow up happy. I still do, but now I'm less sure. Maybe they need to be a little restless too.


David Savill said...

Lovely piece Daddy J. We recently went to Legoland Windsor, where the vehicles in Lego Europe are all the vehicles of my childhood: Citroen BX's and the old Renault Espace...this piece captures perfectly the Legoland Ennui.

angelsandurchinsblog said...

Great post, and can I just say how much I love the phrase 'cibattering locals'. I'm probably one, gulp.