What makes London different – FT.com
Londoners with Jags generally send their children to private schools often extremely mixed. However, most London kids attend the local school. The London author Zadie Smith recalls growing up with girls in headscarves, Jewish boys with yarmulkes and “Hindu kids with bindis on their foreheads … United in the same primary schools, we were neither mesmerised by, nor especially frightened of, our differences.” Even last summer’s riots were multicultural. As Smith writes: “We riot together, and together we clean the streets.”Each ethnicity might have liked to build itself a ghetto, but it couldn’t. London lacked space. People squeezed in where they could. And so the city has no monolithic ghettoes. Tower Hamlets is fairly Bangladeshi, Stockwell fairly Portuguese and South Kensington a bit French, but none of these groups has a local majority. New York, by contrast, has clearer “communities”. A friend once gave me an anthropological tour of Queens. He showed me the block for Indians from a certain state, the Polish bit, the Korean street. “There are unofficial, self-imposed borders in these communities,” he explained. “You will rarely see a south Asian at a Colombian restaurant.” In London you do.Crucially, London is fairly safe. Like New York, it has about eight million inhabitants, but London had 125 murders in 2010, whereas New York – supposedly the safest big American city – had 536. Consequently, London has fewer “gated communities”. You can wander around Knightsbridge at midnight, ogling oligarchs’ mansions unchallenged. Despite fantastic inequality, people mostly rub along.