In the wake of the London riots

Submitted by laurastavro on August 17, 2011 - 9:54am

Having lived in London for several years seeing the riots earlier this month spurred mixed reactions in me. Obivously the first was fear and saddness for all of my friends and colleagues who live in the city, many in the affected areas. At the same time I wasn't all that surprised. 

Yes, London has a history of riots connected to football and the UK a rich history of civil uprising and action however neither of these are the reasons behind my less than shocked reaction. 

In the later years of my time in London I confronted a constant feeling of unease that it took me a long time to identify. I was happy in my job, living with a wonderful partner, I had great friends and family in my life but something didn't feel right. There was an undercurrent under everything that seemed to rise and overwhelm me at the most unexpected times. I could be walking down the street, standing in line for a coffee or at a gallery and would be overcome by an unnameable malaise. 

Just before leaving I finally put my finger on it and, I believe, it is a contributing factor to the outbreak of violence and unrest in the recent weeks. I realised that, despite living in a small building, I didn't know any of my neighbours. I walked down my street everyday and no one looked up to see the people around them. On the tube pregnant women were often left standing as were older people or those with canes. And in one case when a young girl was being attacked on a busy shopping street hoards of people passed her by, looking on but refusing to step in.

I don't mean to simplify what is obviously a very complex situation but I can't help but think that this aloneness amongst the masses helped the situation along. If one doesn't feel connected, doesn't feel some ownership of their surroundings then why should they step in to help? 

Since the riots Londoners have banded together (as they are amazing at doing in the wake of crises) within communities they have organized clean ups, they are fundraising to help shopkeepers who have lost everything and they used the very technologies that facilitated the riots to catch the culprits by posting photographs of offenders.


I suppose every situation has good and bad effects. Hopefully this outpouring of goodwill and togetherness is something that will remain long after the windows have been repaired and burnt cars have been towed away however there is an undercurrent that allowed these people, mostly kids, to go out and loot shops, to disregard the wellbeing of others in their communities and that is what is disturbing.

To me - it comes down to community. To a sense of shared values, shared space, to these kids knowing that shopkeeper and also knowing that whether they live in a beautiful expensive flat or a government funded tower block they are part of something bigger than themselves. They are valuable and important and have something to offer the people around them.



Photo credit: Banksy, No Ball Games 

It makes me wonder if Tamarack Vibrant Communities programs could have a place in the UK or if there is already a program operating there. To my mind small efforts like community gardens, local, community run child care and allowing ball games to be played in public spaces could help. For years councils legislated against the playing of ball games however this is changing - and hopefully for the betterment of life for kids quality across the UK.

What do you think? Am I oversimplifying? Over valuing the power of small community initiatives? It would be great to hear what you think....