Where’s Safe?

09/08/2011 § Leave a comment

So we’ve got riots. Cheap, nasty riots. Speaking as a West Londoner, it’s disappointing to have your views of Norf, Saaf and Eest London reinforced, but there you have it.

Still, I have friends who seemed to prefer living in somewhere vibrant, so I’ve been watching to see where things have been kicking off. According to the news, the rioters are coordinating to spread chaos as widely as possible in the hope of to stretching the police thinner. Last night we’ve seen trouble in Hackney, Croydon, Lewisham, Woolwich, Clapham, Peckham and good ol’Camden – all of them at least a mile away from the original agro in Tottenham.

This riot is all about looting; so a part of me wonders why the looters are proving so parochial in their choices. After all, if I was wanting to steal high value products in a short space of time, I’d be off to Bond Street, or failing that the local UPS depot. There’s a lot more lootable stuff on Richmond High Street than there is in Peckham, but clearly the mob isn’t willing to go too far outside of its comfort zone.

All of which made me think of this sets of maps, originally produced by the Planning Department of Los Angeles back in the early seventies. (Click for a larger version)

They asked residents from different neighbourhoods to draw a map of the city, and superimposed the results. On the left, you’ve got the white, affluent inhabitants of Westwood. In the middle, less-affluent black residents of Avalon. In the third, poor Hispanics in Boyle Heights. All of the maps that people drew were on wildly different scales; but here the authors put them on a common scale.

The richer you are, the more extensive your knowledge of the city. In fact, the city of the very poorest is only a few streets wide, whereas the affluent suburbanite can see country rolling for miles. As a rich West Londoner, I still know about Hackney, Romford, West Croydon and Deptford. But the odds are that not all that many of them know about the place I live. When things kick off, I know where to stay out of; but they don’t know where to break into.

Panic on the streets of London; but open-air dining on the streets of Chiswick.

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