Thursday, 09 September 2010

Rows, by any other name Today's Telegraph has a piece about embarrassing or stigmatised street names. Changing the name of a street is an expensive and lengthy process, as the article points out, and risks washing away some valued nuggets of local history. Often these are not just rows of houses, but places with an accumulated shared history. Whatever is wrong with 'Brewery Street'? Let's take a closer look. Apparently the inhabitants of Butt Hole Road had to put up with coach loads of US tourists visiting to have their pictures taken near the road sign... - so I can certainly understand the motivation there, as in circumstances which involve nothing more complicated than confirming one's address over the phone to a tedious tittering office twat. But where we English excel is in our unfailing adherence to the tradition of snobbery, and some street name changes can only be accounted for in terms of collective snobbery. Like these examples cited: Residents of Whiteway Avenue, near Bath, changed their street to the more picturesque Englishcombe Rise, because of the "negative connotations" of sharing a name with a nearby suburb called Whiteway. In Walsall, part of Beddows Road was renamed Lavender Grove because the old name had become associated with a high crime rate and anti social behaviour. ...In Bournemouth, Derby Road was changed to Garden Views because the new name was "perceived to have more desirable connotations". The real interest now could be in what effect, if any, these changes have had. 'Beddows' may smell as sweet as 'Lavender' but do people there and in surrounding streets genuinely perceive a difference that is measurable not solely in house prices?
Equality and saving I feel gloomy about the future of equalities in the UK. In recent months I've heard several stories of distorted job recruitment processes which suggest that much of the hard work done in the eighties and nineties to equalise opportunity in our society might now be vulnerable to selfish value-free indifference. But given that having money is now such a dominant motif in so much private and public conversation, it makes sense to pay some attention to poverty and the notion of saving. Assets matter: the wealthiest half of households holds 91 per cent of the UK’s total wealth, while the other half has the remaining 9 per cent. That's not healthy. I learned this from a new report from ResPublica on 'creating a new civic savings platform for young people'. This issue is a bit like Big Society: I can see it makes sense to talk about encouraging a culture of sensible saving for people in poverty (just as it's reassuring to hear that government recognises the importance of local community action); but wouldn't it have helped if those in positions of power had demonstrated some competence in financial management themselves (just as it would have helped if they'd had some kind of track record in appreciating local efforts at co-production)? A refreshingly sharp reflection on the mess our leaders have got us in comes from Karel Williams, via Will Davies: 'Any society in which massive gains are privatised and massive losses are socialised is one which is suffering from a problem of predatory elites.' Here's how the ResPublica report's authors, Phillip Blond and Sandra Gruescu, present the argument: 'Too many Britons are trapped in a world of welfare and low wages, where owning little, they can change even less. And with minimal prospect of advancement for them or their children, it often appears as if we are creating and expanding a new servile class progressively and aggressively cut off from the world of assets and opportunity. These are the conditions that incubate the debt disease that has captured our culture (both public and private) and allowed our citizens to mortgage their futures and make fictional all their hopes and aspirations. 'Without assets, opportunity seldom knocks – wealth is what allows people to access opportunity and to advance up the social ladder. Locking people out of wealth and access to assets condemns them to debt serfdom where they must borrow to make ends meet and where futures are consumed by the demands of the present. If we are to create a genuinely free and fair society, then the language of equality and opportunity has to be matched by some chance of economic equity and some way that ordinary people can build a real stake in the world.'

Recent Comments