My Hampstead: Social scientist Mayer Hillman says cars are the worst thing about Hampstead

Mayer Hillman campaigning for permanent summer time

Mayer Hillman campaigning for permanent summer time - Credit: Nigel Sutton

Social scientist Mayer Hillman, 82, was an architect in private practice in Hampstead from 1954 to 1967, during which time he designed the Ham&High’s former offices in Perrin’s Court. He then wrote his doctoral thesis at Edinburgh University. He has been engaged in social science and environmental research at the Policy Studies Institute since 1970. He lives in Netherhall Gardens, Hampstead.

What brought you to Hampstead?

A stork, 82 years ago. Other than three years in Edinburgh, I have not lived anywhere else nor wished to do so.

You have a day off to spend as you wish in the area, what would you get up to?

I would take a hammock to the top of the tallest tree on Hampstead Heath, preferably during a storm, close my eyes, and commune with nature.

What are the best and worst things about the area?

The best are its many fine buildings and the visual attraction of many of its streets enhancing our lives. The worst are car drivers who degrade the quality of our environment by adding danger, noise and pollution.

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As guest editor of the Ham&High for a day, what one local issue would you most like to see reported?

Action being taken to return to children the freedom to get about on their own that we enjoyed and benefited from as children.

What are your most significant areas of research?

The first is establishing the considerable advantages (especially the extra hour of evening daylight on every day of the year) for the great majority of adults and, even more so, children, of putting clocks one hour ahead of their current setting in both summer and winter – and at no cost to the Exchequer. The second is showing that far more life years are gained from improved fitness through regular cycling than are lost in cycle fatalities. The third relates to climate change. Mankind has already exceeded the planet’s capacity to safely absorb further emissions from fossil fuels. The only realistic policy now is the imposition of equal per capita carbon emissions.

Who is the most inspiring person you have ever met?

Aubrey Meyer, founder of the Global Commons Institute. He has devoted himself to exposing the grave inadequacy of public policy on climate change, most recently, by developing a framework which reveals the alarming consequences of failing to adopt policies with any prospect of success.

If you had to write your own epitaph, what would it say?

He did not have religious convictions but was fiercely committed to his ecologically-informed conscience and to acting on it.

Mayer Hillman was in conversation with Tom Marshall