mercredi 3 décembre 2008

For Richer and for Poorer

Unlike Paris or Manhattan, London is a very mixed city. I can just hear some of you protest that Manhattan is indeed quite diverse, and that it is home to millions of people from all over the world. But the truth is that the poor can no longer really afford to live in Manhattan, as even areas like Spanish Harlem and Hell’s Kitchen are turned into yuppie condo enclaves. And let’s not forget that in Paris, it is the poor minorities that are relegated to an existence in the suburbs, while the affluent get to live in the central parts of town.

London, however, is different. Here you can have a street in a historical preservation neighborhood (like ours!) lined with charming Georgian homes interspersed with council estates (low-income housing). Sure, some neighborhoods are very, very posh and only the richest can afford to live in them. But as far as the majority of London areas are concerned, the poor and the not-so-poor tend to live in mixed company.

This phenomenon is due, in part, to the fact that London did not use to be a city with its own central government. Rather, it was made up of different boroughs, and each borough had to find a way to provide for its own poor. Now that London is more centralized, this means that low-income housing can be found throughout the city, rather than being concentrated in one area of the city.

This perhaps explains the public service announcements that appear in many streets and buses, like this one, warning against “benefits fraud.”

In our neighborhood, one resident, concerned with the government’s efforts to crack down on benefits fraud while letting other types of fraud go unchallenged, decided to add his own message to the public service announcement.

In case you can’t see it clearly in the picture, the message reads, “List Below Your Favourite Fraudsters.” The handwritten list, started by the original concerned resident and continued by other concerned residents, states:

1. British Aerospace £ 200m
2. Chairmen of Banks £ 900m
3. Ministry of Defence (£ xm) (perhaps the number is too difficult to calculate?)
4. People who you think love you (I think you can tell where the original poster left off!)
5. My phoney parents
6. Tony Blair £ 12m
7. The queen with more than £ 2 tax per hour for my job
10. Ordinary people – nothing

Alas, no one was able to fill in slots 8 and 9 as the friendly council folk took down the list. But stay tuned in case we see further public service announcements by Camberwell’s concerned residents.

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