In Broadway Market

James Meek

Some years ago, not long after we saw the looting and burning of Baghdad together, I went with my Iraqi friend Ghaith for lunch in Broadway Market, in Hackney, one of the many parts of London where gentrification of a previously run-down area has been going on for years. The street was, and is, lined with cute shops, bars and restaurants for attractive, trendy, second-generation creative and media types. It has become one of the poles towards which the compass needles of estate agents and fashion-conscious yuppie couples quiver. There is no point in looking to buy a house nearby unless you have at least half a million pounds at your disposal. When Broadway Market actually becomes a market on Saturdays it is as if the council-owned tower blocks and estates behind, around and in between the gentrified patches, where less well-off and poor people live, belong to some other dimension.

As Ghaith and I walked down the street a disturbance began. A group of about thirty young black kids were moving together, looking anxious and excited. Some had makeshift weapons in their hands, poles and lengths of broken-off wood. After a moment, between a gap in the shops that looked through to the base of a tower block, we saw the reason for their anxiety – two tiny figures on bikes, dressed in black, hooded and masked. As we watched, one of the figures reached into the pocket of his hoodie and lifted – just enough to show – a hand gun, spreading panic among the larger group.

The trouble subsided as quickly as it began and the participants dispersed before the police arrived. Throughout the episode, a young, casually dressed, thoughtful-looking white couple sat at a table outside a wine bar, watching and sipping white wine. The neck of the bottle leaned, misted with condensation, from the rim of an ice bucket on the table. The couple didn't look concerned that the gang confrontation or turf battle, whatever it was, would affect them; the feuding kids didn't seem to see them, either.

This is the reality of multicultural London. It is not a melting pot. It is a set of groups that are rigidly self-separated by race, language, religion, class, money, education and age group, who have not only come to an unspoken agreement that they will not mix, but have become complacent that this agreement will not and need not be challenged. As Slavoj Žižek has written in his book Violence,

Today's liberal tolerance towards others, the respect of otherness and openness towards it, is counterpointed by an obsessive fear of harassment. In short, the Other is just fine, but only insofar as his presence is not intrusive, insofar as this Other is not really other... My duty to be tolerant towards the Other effectively means that I should not get too close to him, intrude on his space. In other words, I should respect his tolerance of my over-proximity. What increasingly emerges as the central human right in late-capitalist society... is a right to remain at a safe distance from others.

Bring on your exceptions. Bring them on by the thousand, by the ten thousand. But the truth holds: this is not the mixing city its liberal inhabitants would like to think it is. Loving the cultural diversity of London as a spectator-inhabitant is not the same as mingling with it. The yuppies don't go to the white working-class pubs, and the white working class don't go to the yuppie pubs. The Muslims don't go to the pub at all and the post-Christians don't go to the mosque or the church. The young don't mix with the old. You don't marry outside your income and education group. Parents segregate their school-age children by class and race.

I live in Mile End, about halfway between the site of the Olympics and the closest proper looting spree that I heard of, in Bethnal Green. It was quiet here last night (I haven't heard of any trouble in Broadway Market, either). On the face of it my area's mixed, ethnically and socially. They've just built a new Hindu temple on Rhondda Grove. The students at the girls' school across the road are almost entirely Muslim. The church along the way which would, I assume, be derelict otherwise, has been taken over by a black congregation. Middle-class white atheists like me sail around on our bikes to buy our coffee beans in Broadway Market or Victoria Park Village; there are Georgian houses round the corner that a million pounds wouldn't buy you, and there's the eastern stretch of Roman Road, with pound stores and pawn shops and elderly geezers who never made it out to Essex and a market that makes Albert Square look posh. But this isn't mixing. It's the ingredients for something – nobody knows what – laid out side by side and not being mixed, not touching.

Jan Morris offered a partial defence of the British Empire as an unarticulated effort by Britain to engage with the world – a mutual introduction by conquest. Looting a shop and then burning it down, ignoring the people living in the flats above, can't be excused or accounted for as a way for a particular group to say to London, 'Hi,' and yet that is one of its effects. 'We are here; we exist; we have actual weight; we can break the deal and cross into another zone than ours.' The response of the rest of London to this kind of introduction will be harsh and sceptical, and when it is over, the question will remain unanswered: how, and by what agency, to bring the diverse groups of a city divided by age, class, education, money, race and religion closer together when they are so conscious of their own differences that, left to themselves, they prefer to watch each other from a distance?


  • 9 August 2011 at 2:08pm
    Harry Stopes says:
    "Throughout the episode, a young, casually dressed, thoughtful-looking white couple sat at a table outside a wine bar, watching and sipping white wine. The neck of the bottle leaned, misted with condensation, from the rim of an ice bucket on the table. The couple didn’t look concerned that the gang confrontation or turf battle, whatever it was, would affect them; the feuding kids didn’t seem to see them, either."

    Glasgow 5 March 1971
    With a ragged diamond
    of shattered plate-glass
    a young man and his girl
    are falling backwards into a shop-window.
    The young man's face
    is bristling with fragments of glass
    and the girl's leg has caught
    on the broken window
    and spurts arterial blood
    over her wet-look white coat.
    Their arms are starfished out
    braced for impact,
    their faces show surprise, shock,
    and the beginning of pain.
    The two youths who have pushed them
    are about to complete the operation
    reaching into the window
    to loot what they can smartly.
    Their faces show no expression.
    It is a sharp clear night
    in Sauchiehall Street.
    In the background two drivers
    keep their eyes on the road.

    Edwin Morgan

  • 9 August 2011 at 2:55pm
    dreamofradio says:
    The yuppies don’t go to the white working-class pubs, and the white working class don’t go to the yuppie pubs. The Muslims don’t go to the pub at all and the post-Christians don’t go to the mosque or the church.

    Right, but that's the appeal of cities: people make their own networks and create their own communities that cut across traditional localities and institutions. Please, let's keep this. And people who go to different churches often do, actually, have to share common facilities like estates, schools and playgrounds. I expect there's much more genuine mixing between ethnic and religious groups within different social classes than there is between income groups. For example I'm sure the middle-class parents from different ethnic and religious backgrounds who ship their kids out to private schools or cycle across town to buy coffee beans get along with each other better than they do with many of their neighbours. And I'm sure the black and white kids helping each other loot TK Maxx feel more in common with each other than they do with you.

    The young don’t mix with the old. You don’t marry outside your income and education group. Parents segregate their school-age children by class and race.

    In my opinion, here is the real problem. And I really think your fundamental point about this -- and what the challenge is -- is right.

  • 9 August 2011 at 5:49pm
    SydScarborough says:
    Great post James. I have lived in the Broadway Market area for 10 years and your description of its curious mix of poverty and deprivation alongside new money and furious development is spot on. The only area in which I think you're not quite right is the role of education. Once you have children, you have to make a great effort to maintain the kind of divide you describe. The fact is that in E8/E2 at least (I can't speak for the rest of London) children and parents are thrown together - they are born in the same hospitals, go to the same playgrounds and playgroups, and most of them will end up at school together (lots of parents choose the private route after Year 2). Although some local schools have a reputation of attracting the trendy middle class parents - eg Lauriston in Hackney, Columbia in Tower Hamlets - the schools aren't exclusively segregated by any means. I have long felt that schools should be the focus integration in East London, which is why it is shameful that the schools are now facing cuts, just like the Sure Start centres and libraries, which had a great history of building communities before children even started at school. Most kids in this area go to State Schools - that is where the focus should be.

  • 9 August 2011 at 8:15pm
    loxhore says:
    writer, well done.

    it's been funny to watch this take place online and on television while finishing Gray, Enlightenment's Wake. i recommend the experience.

  • 10 August 2011 at 1:55am
    dburrows says:
    I'm not sure what blinkered world you live in but be assured much of the population of London don't recognise the situation you describe. It's a cliche description of a world that, from your writing, you don't interact with or understand. In true communities around London cultures have blended and blurred so much that to define boundaries would be impossible. The gangs of kids that make us nervous are a mix of races and classes, just like the people that (rightly) feel scared of them. There's a problem here but it's nothing to do with what you describe, it's cross race/class/religion - maybe your 20th century view of this great city needs updating.

  • 10 August 2011 at 9:31am
    Geoff Roberts says:
    Sociology is out of fashion, isn't it? Aren't there any experts we can turn to for some analysis? Seems to me that these social groups that live side by side but never overlapping have been around for years. Once Soho was the multicultural centre of London, an island populated mainly by immigrants, offering a touch of the louche, the exotic to the lads' night out in one of the pubs in Wardour Street. The exchange of cash for goods/services was the only communication. Soho as a tourist attraction, a brush with the darker side of life. The ambulances driving into Soho Square where the hospital was always busy on a Saturday night, just round the corner, the New Left Review office. Did these environments ever intermingle? Same today, the street experience of a teenager in Hackney is worlds apart from the cool observations of the LRB writer who has time to observe the droplets on the wine bottle that cost more than a week's dole money.

  • 10 August 2011 at 11:01am
    Harry Stopes says:
    dburrows, are you saying that London isn't a divided city? Or that it's divided along lines other than what James Meek describes? Perhaps you could explain a bit more.

    • 11 August 2011 at 9:53am
      alex says: @ Harry Stopes
      I agreed with dburrows's comment, for the following reasons: Meek describes 'a divided city' in generic terms, without either distinguishing london's specific features from those of other stratified cities, or explaining the causes of the riots successfully. It's cheap Starbucks sociology.

    • 12 August 2011 at 11:44am
      Harry Stopes says: @ alex
      Really, you think it's generic? Funnily enough it struck me as the opposite. I don't know another city that is so divided and yet in which people of different classes live so close to each other. It's the living close and yet not mixing that's characteristic, as far as I can make out. In Manchester, where I grew up, the city is divided area by area. Didsbury's middle class, Moss Side's poor and mainly non white, Burnage is white working class, and so on. Paris, as someone described below is divided by the boulevard peripherique.

    • 12 August 2011 at 2:42pm
      alex says: @ Harry Stopes
      First, I don't buy the stuff about non-mixing. Perhaps because I'm myself in a mixed marriage, many of my acquaintances are - but the guy isn't basing his observations on facts, and hasn't done any counter-research that would put him in a position to offer us informed comparisons.
      Second, I see many divided cities in the Netherlands, Scandinavia, the UK and the Balkans. (Is Manchester's juxtaposition of Moss Side and the university quarter, or Toxteth being next to Aigburth in Liverpool, really that different?) Perhaps the pressure is extreme in London due to bourgeois colonization of former working class areas. But again, the guy doesn't do anything that traces the violence to this feature. Why start with Broadway Market when this clearly didn't trigger the violence? He's offering us symbols, not causes.

    • 12 August 2011 at 7:02pm
      Harry Stopes says: @ alex
      No, I'd say that Manchester is different. Moss Side is right next to the university (although, most students actually live in Fallowfield or Withington), but that's the point, 'next to' - Manchester is divided into relatively homogenous areas. A poor district might be right up against a wealthier district, but the poor district contains only poor people and the wealthy district wealthy people. I'm pretty sure the same is true of Liverpool. Contrast that situation with the one Meek describes with million pound houses being opposite council estates and so on, phenomena I assume you recognise. As you rightly say a lot of this can be attributed to gentrification - but gentrification is a massive force in London, not a minor detail.
      You're right that he doesn't cite any studies to back this up, but such studies do exist. One study of Brixton (between Brixton Water Lane and Christchurch Road, and between Dulwich Road and Railton Road) showed that although the middle class residents there cited the mix of the area as one of its major positive features, in reality people in Brixton mostly associate with people like them.
      (And as for your marriage, Meek does after all say 'bring on your exceptions,' which you have.)

    • 12 August 2011 at 7:04pm
      Harry Stopes says: @ Harry Stopes
      Incidentally I agree with you that this isn't a great description of causes - the trouble began in an area that's basically just poor, not one of London's 'mixing' hotspots. But, regardless, I still see it as a true depiction of London in general.

    • 12 August 2011 at 8:03pm
      alex says: @ Harry Stopes
      Thanks for the reply. Liverpool is like Manchester but much foreshortened - smart Georgian quarter hard by Toxteth. And from the smart southern suburbs you pretty much have to drive through Toxteth.
      About my exceptions: how can you tell my mixing is an exception rather than the rule? When I lived in North London half the street was intermarried (Spanish-Chinese; black-white; hungarian-algerian). There was strong social stratification (owners; renters; gangs) but a lot more communication across these lines, and common features of ethnic mixture, than might be imagined.
      About space and social inequality, I'm posting a reply to Thomas Jones's statistics on Haringey on his 'Why here, why now?' post.

    • 14 August 2011 at 11:09am
      Harry Stopes says: @ alex
      For what it's worth the 2001 census showed that only 2% of marriages in England and Wales were mixed, but you'd probably (rightly) point out that that doesn't give us an indication of the number of new mixed marriages happening now, nor does it tell us about mixed couples that aren't married. So I suppose you're right, I'm only going on my general impressions - I'd be happy to be proven wrong.
      I don't read this article as making at that division is only about space. As you say there are non spatial factors too, but that's implicit here too. People of different classes/groups live to all intents and purposes right next to each other but have different values, horizons, or whatever you want to call them - this is what Meek's saying. The image of middle class cyclists "sailing" around is striking. As somebody said below, young people in places like Tottenham are actually not very mobile, and don't often leave their local area and go into the centre of London. A friend who worked with teenagers in Salford has told me the same thing about them and central Manchester.

    • 14 August 2011 at 7:37pm
      alex says: @ Harry Stopes
      The mixed race population of Hackney in 2001 was 4.53% - using the silly British categories like ‘white’ and ‘asian’ that wouldn’t capture much interethnic marriage. That means that there was a person of mixed race to every 4.6 black inhabitants; and as you acknowledge, this has probably changed quite a lot (The following article from 2006 claims, probably exaggeratedly, that one in five London pre-schoolers are of mixed race:
      The stuff about people having different values and horizons was my starting point. I maintain this is true of many international cities and not particularly of London. Meek doesn't explain whether London is more or less segregated; whether it's changing; what matters the most to people (e.g. ethnicity, religion or class); or what correlation these matters have to social tension. People bicycling to buy coffee beans is not a major act of crowd provocation, no matter how self-consciously they go about it. We need better sociology on this (especially to capture subjective attitudes, and change). A good (much) older book was Norbert Elias’s The Established and the Outsiders, about Leicester.
      Thanks for the discussion, anyhow.

    • 14 August 2011 at 8:26pm
      Harry Stopes says: @ alex
      Cheers, you too. Just a final comment. You're probably right about international cities (though as I said above Paris, the only foreign capital I know well, is divided in a different way spatially), but there's certainly a difference between the way social divisions present themselves in London and in the rest of the UK.
      Cities seem to go through cycles of how they feel about themselves. New York in the 80s, say, seems to have been quite down on itself, as grimy and crime-ridden. In the last 15 years or so London has been through a big phase of telling everyone how brilliant it is. Realising the ways in which things aren't quite so rosy is important, even if this analysis may have some flaws.

  • 10 August 2011 at 5:49pm
    Urbanist says:
    thank you for this excellent article. the often proclaimed "social mix" is nothing more than a justification for gentrification and the "upgrading" of a poor area by an inmovement of more affluent residents. why is there never any talk about bringing more social mix into wealthy neighbourhoods? they tend to be the most homogeneous, segregated spaces in a city!

    • 10 August 2011 at 8:21pm
      Michael Edwards says: @ Urbanist
      Good conversation here. Four observations:
      (i) unless we can retain low- and middle-income residence in gentrifying areas none of the potential understanding or interaction which dburrows and Syd value, none of the discovery of common class intersts, is even POSSIBLE.
      (ii) action groups did fight against this "social mix policy" (never applied in rich areas) in Boris's new London Plan, and persuaded the expert panel to recommend deletion of the policy 2.10B. Boris however just softened it a bit to read “A more balanced mix of tenures should be sought in all parts of London, particularly in some neighbourhoods where social renting predominates and there are concentrations of deprivation”.
      (iii) in the same arena we persuaded the panel to recommend that, in 'regeneration' there should be no loss of social rented housing. Here again Boris resisted, writing in Policy 2.14 "These plans should resist loss of housing, including affordable housing, in individual regeneration areas unless it is replaced by better quality accommodation, providing at least an equivalent floorspace.” So displacement could get rapidly worse.
      (iv) There is research on these issues: universities are not totally complicit in what is happening.
      More on all this at

  • 10 August 2011 at 11:12pm
    RachelG says:
    I'd agree with you about the lack of real integration in London, but would argue that the class lines are drawn much more sharply than the race ones, and also that people of the same class but different race AND religion are divided a lot more than people with the same class and religious (or secular) background but different race.

    However, there isn't much to be gained from the kind of tokenistic friendships with 'the Other' described by the website "Stuff White People Like" under 'Gay Friends', 'Friends from an Ethnic Minority' and so on. There's a reason for the lack of true mixing across class boundaries in London - people of different classes don't have enough common ground in their material circumstances for this to happen often. If we created a more equal society for ourselves then our circumstances would be more similar throughout society, which would allow these boundaries to be broken down in a natural way as they ceased to be meaningful. Until that happens, no amount of middle class handwringing over the issue is going to help much.

  • 11 August 2011 at 1:50am
    Niall Anderson says:
    There's the germ of an idea in here (most of it borrowed from Žižek), but I'm damned if it adds up to anything coherent.

    I was in Paris when the Banlieues went off. Even as a casual traveller it was clear why it was happening: government investment was restricted to the Haussmann zone. Everywhere else could fuck off. Do you live outside the tourist zone? Well, I'm sorry - the Metro stops running beyond Montmartre at eleven. Get a cab.

    London isn't like this. The areas that are commonly described as ghettoes aren't anything of the sort. The social services don't end - and the public transport doesn't stop - just because you live in an area where the inhabitants are primarily non-white. There aren't even really ghettoes in London - at least as the French (or even the Americans) would understand the term. You can always get to somewhere else. There are horizons beyond your estate and you know about them.

    All of which makes me wonder what James Meek wants from his multicultural city. Judging by their Facebook contacts, my (white) teenage nephews are friends with the most extraordinary range of people. Every race is represented and every religion. This wouldn't be possible in a truly segregated city like Paris, or Chicago. The chaos that gives rise to riots in London also gives rise to this kind of cross-class, cross-race solidarity. It may not be for people of James Meek's perennially disappointed generation, but there is hope for the British experiment yet.

  • 11 August 2011 at 11:22am
    mywinningsmile says:
    My mum used to work in colleges across North London. In one, they organised for some of the 16-17 year olds in Haringay to have a day trip. Into town. Many of the young people had never travelled into zone 1. I found that really hard to believe, but it's there. There really weren't horizons beyond their estate. She reported similar experiences when in other areas.

    When you consider post codes as a factor you can begin to see why. I worked with some kids in Peckham, and believe that leaving the area is a big thing indeed.

    It's not about race or religion, so much as class and in-group/outgroups.

  • 11 August 2011 at 3:34pm
    patrick_p83 says:
    It's not enough to say that members of different social groups aren't interacting because they have nothing in common, or that the divisions in Hackney now are the same as in Soho back in the day. The point is that the same ideology is at work in the case of both the looters and the yuppies at their cafe table. The ideology that promotes the idea of rampant, unfettered consumption as a means to fulfillment, is the same as the 'facebook' ideology according to which the basis of communication between individuals can have no other criterion than shared 'interests'. If Niall Anderson believes that a survey of his nephews' facebook pages accurately represents the kind of people they interact with in real life, he doesn't know how these kinds of sites work - the logic whereby the superficial display of cultural credentials (favorite youtube clips, carefully curated 'friend' displays) is all that counts in the narcissistic cultivation of one's unique individuality. Perhaps Soho was divided in the 70s, but I assume that no one involved then (not even the NLR staff) would have pretended otherwise. That's the difference today - there is so much evidence for a desire that divides be surmounted. This can easily be mistaken as proof that they have been. But the desire is there, and what's heartening is that the rioters are now expressing it more convincingly than the deluded gentrifiers.

  • 13 August 2011 at 8:47am
    murphsup says:
    Very good article indeed. The problem isn't just the lack of mixing, which is a lack of mixing between classes. It's that politicians have exacerbated the gap between haves and have nots, in terms of property prices, education and lack of prospects. Jules Pipe, New Labour mayor of Hackney, attacked Michael Rosen's criticisms of Dalston redevelopment as the "keep Hackney crap" brigade. The implication is that the only path he sees of developing Hackney is Dalston and Broadway Market as ribbon extensions of the middle-class media town of Shoreditch. The vision of Nye Bevan, of integrated council estates where the doctor would live next to the labourer, is a long-forgotten heresy. As is building council houses at all.

    And it's not just separateness, it's parading separateness from the gentrified beachhead, as individualised self-validation, selling self in an insecure, individualised, marketised world: 'CEO of your own future', as school teaches you to sink or swim these days. That one is not a 'chav' but a 'cultured hipster', a player with media skills, a 'creative', whose social centres are art galleries, Broadway Market restaurants and the Cat and Mutton, not the local boozer or community centre.

    While the middle classes have these new social centres, the poor have fewer and fewer. In Hackney Wick, where I live, all the local pubs had shut, and the community centre shut last year. But now, for the 'hipster', there is a choice of art gallery, and one bar, the Hackney Pearl, frequented almost exclusively by artists and their tourists on one side of Felstead Rd, but not by the inhabitants of the Trowbridge Estate on the other. There is a crying need to reach out to the local community, of which there is precious little (though credit to the artists who have done the 'orange fixes' in the area who came to a local tenants' meeting and whose art is integrated).

    Meanwhile the area will become Boris's Olympic Park Legacy Corporation after the enormous spend on the Olympic circus (half of which will be demolished) which promises only 'high quality', but not affordable, homes - The new development around Hackney Wick station which will be subsumed into the OPLC has no social rented housing, only 20% part-buy part-rent.

    The Wick draws young 'creatives' from far & wide (even internationally) in a constant ebb & flow of wheeled suitcases, reaching fever pitch with the Hackney Wicked festival. Hipsterdom, it seems, is an international trend and expression of those who can afford to live in cities like London and New York and afford the 'luxury' of an arts education.
    I am absolutely for more art, but these days it all too often sadly rides as a badge of status and an emblem of gentrification. I hope that more artists draw a critical conclusion from the recent riots that they can have a role in processes and movements to tackle deprivation and inequality, and link their art and future to fighting for collective social improvement: rather than 'do a Tracey Emin' and look to the rich as the important people because they buy art to decorate their £1m+ properties.

  • 15 August 2011 at 7:44pm
    echothx says:
    "If you think you are an idealist, get off twitter, put down your placard, stop gazing at your navel to examine your privilege. Put your money and time where your mouth is. Go and volunteer in a primary school and sit with those who are struggling to read, go and become a school governor, go and do a bit of training to become an adult advocate so that when one of these kids goes through the judicial system and their parents can’t or won’t participate in the process, you can be called on to speak to and for them. If you can’t do any of those things, work an extra shift or do some baby-sitting to free up a colleague or friend who can. Unlike gesture politics, these acts will make a difference."

  • 18 August 2011 at 4:12pm
    markbearn says:
    I was sitting outside a a rather nice cafe (La Bouche) on Broadway Market half an hour ago, reading this article (on my iPhone)... When two hooded young chaps ran up, snatched the phone out of my hand, and ran off into the estate with it.

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