Saturday, September 3, 2011

Welcome to the New and Non-Improved City of London

I just finished reading an article in the Gothenburg Post. The paper is running a 5-page piece on the London riots and the future outlook for todays kids with a focus on Europe. I have to say, its not looking good. Especially since I just moved to London. The article got me thinking about my recent travels around Europe.; it seems Im blind to the crisis or possibly just suppressed it until now. Ill start out slow.

This summer Ive spent a lot of time reading about crisis after crisis going on in the world and its never-ending. There are innumerable articles about the world economy’s collapse and why my generation doesnt stand a chance. Dreams have been replaced by negativity, mistrust and doubt. First, a mad man kills children and teenagers on an island because he is part racist, part suppressor of democracy and equal rights for all. Then Greece hits a new low point and the people lose their pensions, their jobs, and their hope. Later, the markets crash and more people are financially ruined. And finally, the London riots. This last one hits a bit harder as London is home. I have to say Im not surprised but that doesnt mean Im not ashamed.



Polls suggest that the standard of living in London is generally low. I can relate to this considering I live in a flat that costs two times the price of a flat in Sweden (where I was born and raised). It has mould on the walls and is located within a moderately high crime rate area. Pay rates are also among the lowest Ive ever come upon, yet its still worth it. London has a vibe like no other city and Ive always felt exhilarated by its opportunities but now Ive got a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. Even though these riots are in part effects of vandals and thieves there is still a very serious message being sent to the rest of the world. Suddenly I see my city in a completely different view.

There's no denying that London (or the entire UK for that matter) is lacking in several important public services, leading to the upset of the people. Student fees are high and taking out massive loans is never an attractive option, especially when there arent many jobs to be found. Strangely enough, job opportunity is part of why London was so appealing to me. Sweden is also experiencing one of the worst financial times in the countrys history; the unemployment percentage is higher than ever and its hardest on the younger citizens. Both countries are lacking in motivation and hopelessness is a strong and well-known emotion. I should know; the feeling felt very familiar when I returned to Sweden from my study year abroad. I’d just come back from Australia, entirely broke with an extensive student loan hanging over my head, and most of my Swedish work contacts had been slightly neglected. Thanks to a lot of hours spent sending out countless resumes and previous work experience I managed to get a summer job but I still spent two months unemployed and feeling like a failure. And believe me, I got lucky. A lot of people didn’t get work.



My surname is Abgarian. Its hard to pronounce and even harder to remember. Ive been judged over the years for my name and Im fairly sure Ive missed out on a few job opportunities. Ive experienced my fair share of prejudices and racism, being seen for where Im from rather than who I am, but London felt different to me. It inspired me. What’s most beautiful about the city is its diversity. People come to London from all over the world to start a new life and yet there’s still a massive divide. The subject is slightly taboo as people don’t like to admit that they have prejudices. We’re supposed to be open and honest, to respect everyone and their individual cultures. This notion is admirable and something to strive for. It’s “the perfect world” but it's not where we are now.

When I first arrived in London I lived in a lot of different areas. I’ve also spent a lot of time exploring the city and studying the people. People from similar countries and cities live in the same areas and I think it feels familiar and safe to them. I’m not passing judgment as I myself live with two Swedes. I suppose, when home is far away, it’s nice to have people that remind you of it. I believe that everyone should be entitled to upholding their culture but I also think it’s important to embrace or at the very least respect a new country’s culture so that you can be a part of it - at home and united.

The immediate verbal feedback from the riots was people asking who started them rather than why. Now, Im not blind to racism but I am slightly na├»ve. I think the people who committed crime during the riots should receive the appropriate punishments for it yet they shouldn't be seen as a whole. They're not a community of people or even a single race. They are people desperate for change and for the community and government to act and help. There may be similarities in race and age, in financial status and behavior, but isn’t grouping them as one just a way of hiding from the problem and refusing to see why these people are so unhappy with the country?

I spend most of my time in Clapham which was one of the hardest hit riot areas. Clapham Junction was ruined and it broke my heart. I know a lot of people in the area, I respect them and their businesses, and during those short but horrific days these people were scared to go outside. I was frightened to return from holiday, expecting that my home, my Clapham, would look horrific. As it turns out people that may have believed in the cause but not the means joined forces and cleaned up. Everyone willing grabbed a broom and got to it. Its a shame I wasnt there to experience it; I can imagine that the unity must have felt empowering. Just like that, the city got a bit of its spark back.



The journalists in the Gothenburg Post interviewed young people from all over the continent. I myself spent a few days in Paris and Rome in May and I didnt notice a crisis at all. I guess theyre not quite there yet or perhaps its just not something you see when youre a visitor. I wonder how long it will be until Europe starts to resemble the war zones in Afghanistan or Africa. Worse still because it isnt a war with guns, nor starvation or a massacre (excepting Oslo and Utoya) but simply a desertion of hope. A future with no future. London is losing its vibe and Im just waiting on the rest of the world to follow. Politicians and governments need to open their eyes and the rest of us need to acknowledge our role in the problem. A perfect world is far from what is achievable (at least for now) but there are still things that can be done. New job opportunities need to be created for young people and hope needs to be infused back into the national mind. Apartments and houses need to be restored and the city’s living standard needs severe improvement. The government needs to start listening to the people and what they really want and need. We grow up into a world where we don’t believe we can do what makes us happy but we should go for the safe option. This thought is so depressing. The world is always balancing on a thin line between chaos and stability. It’ll never be perfect, just as no one person is, but it can still be better. A lot better than this.


Written by Allie Abgarian.

See Allie's full profile here.

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