Wednesday, 25 July 2012

London, a mosaic of inequalities: how the Spanish media sees Britain's capital

Olympic Torch at Battersea Dog's Home
The Olympic city is full of contrasts between different and separate social classes and a diversity of cultural identities
LONDON The Olympic Torch was carried through 33 of London's boroughs this week, the idea being to show an image of unity and harmony. The reality is very different, however. London is full of contrasts and inequalities, although, together with Paris and Berlin, the capital of the old British Empire is one of Europe's popular cities, having welcomed over 15 million tourists in 2011. This is a generalization of some of the comments offered up by the Spanish media, where the diversity of opinion is as varied as the variety of cultures of London's inhabitants.>>>
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Among the praise London receives is her capacity for renovation, for combining traditional architecture with the avant guarde. This, of course, is largely in reference to the recently-inaugurated Shard, the tallest building in Europe. Another plus is the proliferation of parks and green areas, where a total of 3,000 such spaces make it possible - and even likely - to meet one of the 10,000 foxes who live there.

By contrast, and especially seeing the above, London is also one of Europe's most polluted cities, where air quality is very close to the bottom of the European list. This is not surprisingly attributed to the amount of traffic in the capital's streets, despite the fact that they also host one of the world's most extensive networks of public transport, although the Underground comes in for criticism for being old and overwhelmed. (We did not see any reference to the new Jubilee line...)

There are some 30,000 shops in London, says a magazine specialising in, you got it, shopping. She is thus what another calls 'a temple' of that activity, and contains Europe's largest 'commercial' (read shopping) centre at Stratford, very close to the Olympic headquarters. The centre holds over 300 shops, 70 restaurants, a casino, three hotels and a multiscreen cinema, says an architectural magazine in admiration. The idea was to regenerate the area but some critics see it as an island of prosperity in the middle of an ocean of decay.

Last year's riots, say some of the media, were a disturbing manifestation of the reality brought about by social imbalance and a distinct reluctance to integrate by many of the city's immigrant communities. Another contrast, says an online medium, is the constant parade of luxury vehicles in the more elegant sections of the city, a reflection of the success of City executives - though this may change, it adds, as a result of the recent uncovering of excesses in Europe's financial capital.

According to Forbes, as quoted by another source, London is the third on a list of world cities that are home to most multimillionaires. Ten percent of London's richest is 273 times richer than the poorest 10%. Property prices are 'stratospheric', says this same source, who offers proof in the recent purchase of one property in West London by an anonymous Russian for almost €180 million.

A report published last year, according to one regional paper, says that "over one million Londoners live in relative poverty." Greater London and its 33 buroughs house over eight million people, a number that has increased by 12% over the last 10 years, the highest growth rate in England and Wales, according to the latest census. Another online curmudgeon asks, "How long will it be before the rats start eating each other?" in reference to the Tottenham riots of 2011.

More figures offered up by the media refer to the fact that one out of every four London residents was born outside Britain, which, says one, "offers an idea of the cultural mosaic the city has become." Immigration comes mainly from the Commonwealth, flowing in since the end of World War 2, and again since 2000 from Eastern Europe, principally from Poland.

In summary, the Spanish media writes a lot about London leading up to Friday's Olympic opening ceremony, offering very little that is new and, as we have, scratching around for information. True, there is little that is immediately recognizable as coming from a press release but we seem to have read it all before. The tone of each article depends largely on its owner's political proclivities, journalistic objectivity being largely absent.

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