A set of traffic lights near Leeds Bus Station breaks down with alarming regularity. It is a busy crossroads, with hundreds of cars passing every hour. Nevertheless, as a driver, it seems to me that the passage of traffic, if anything, speeds up when the lights are out. Drivers, who would normally robotically plough through green and slam the brakes on at red, suddenly wake up. They slow down, look around and even allow pedestrians to cross before traversing the junction themselves. Other vehicles flash their lights, cede passage and behave as if road rage was a thing of the past. Despite hundreds of thousands of pounds’ worth of spending, the traffic flows just as well with no intervention. It is necessary to be able to cope with this kind of counterintuitive realisation before reading Ground Control: Fear and Happiness in the Twenty-First Century-City by Anna Minton, because much of what she says goes against accepted theory.
The central question of the book is why, despite increasing affluence, we in Britain are so anxious, stressed and depressed. Crime rates are dropping across the board but most people don't believe it, because the fear of crime is ever present and getting worse. Minton argues that the