Yesterday while I was writing about public space, I was reminded of the Thriving Places Index that launched in February this year. Compiled by the Bristol-based charity Happy City, the index aims to set out a series of benchmarks for human flourishing. It’s a deliberate response to the pursuit of economic growth as an over-arching policy goal, drawing instead on a broad set of more useful indicators of progress.
Alternatives metrics have been compiled before, many times. What’s different about the Thriving Places Index is that it focuses on local economies. It provides local authorities with a snapshot of their town’s performance, showing where improvements could be made that would genuinely enhance the wellbeing of the area.
The Index takes the three broad categories of sustainability, equality and local conditions. Those are then broken down into a series of measurable categories that include mental health, green space, recycling rates, unemployment, social cohesion and a number of other factors, 48 in total. Together, it gives places a score for how well they are delivering fair and sustainable good lives. It’s the kind of thing we could use to measure progress in a postgrowth society.
To give you an example, here’s Luton, where I live. Scores are out of ten, so it’s kind of in the middle of things. If you look at the detail, we score really poorly on education, culture and recycling. We score high on energy consumption per capita, income equality, good jobs and transport.
I have a few quibbles with the TPI, one of which is that it doesn’t use objective standards for sustainability. Places can score well on sustainability but still be nowhere near a genuinely one-planet lifestyle, but it does give a general impression of performance.
How useful the index proves to be remains to be seen. For one thing, it’s only available in England, and only for one year so far. If it’s updated every year, as planned, it could become a way of measuring trends. And perhaps if one or two local authorities take hold of it and use it, others may follow. If not, it is likely to join the list of alternative measure of progress stacking up in the shadow of GDP.