“Finsbury Park won’t be divided by terror”: notes on a diverse north London community

Monday’s vigil. Image: Getty.

Finsbury Park is a bustling, diverse and vibrant area in north London. It is a neighbourhood which typifies the multicultural metropolis that has emerged in cities across the world as a result of globalisation. Over a hundred languages are spoken in the area and foodstuffs are on sale from every corner of the world.

After an atrocious terror attack on Muslim worshippers leaving Muslim Welfare House after breaking Ramadan fast in the early hours of the morning on 19 June, hundreds of people attended a vigil in Finsbury Park to lay flowers and show solidarity. They held signs saying “United against all terror” and “#WeStandTogether”.

The mood in the area has been understandably sombre since the attack, with Muslim communities concerned by the very tangible threat of Islamophobia. And yet Mohammed Kozbar, chairman of Finsbury Park Mosque near the site of the attack, echoed a general sentiment: “We all have harmony in this area, and these people try to divide us, but we tell them that ‘we will not let you do that’.”

Never static

The recreation ground of Finsbury Park was opened in 1869 as the first public open space in Hornsey for Islington Parish’s urban and overcrowded residents. In the decades that followed, the area became rapidly urbanised, built up as a commuter suburb for the new middle classes. By the 1920s the area had fallen on hard times, many houses became multiple occupancy and working class communities moved in from other parts of Islington. As a result, by the 1930’s in streets such as Campbell Road, 30 per cent of houses had become overcrowded.

Many migrant communities found their home in the area after World War II. It moved from being a largely Irish area to an Afro-Caribbean one in the decades following the war, as a Monserratian diaspora settled there. As time went on, Greek Cypriots and later Turkish Cypriots became established, developing the rag trade centred on Fonthill Road. As the Cypriot populations began to move on, Turkish and Kurdish communities made the area their home, particularly to the north in neighbouring Green Lanes. By the 1980s and 1990s, Somalis refugees had began to settle.

Seven Sisters Road, 2016. Image: author's photograph.

Today, depending on how you define the boundaries of Finsbury Park, it is home to some 30,000 to 60,000 people across the boroughs of Islington, Haringey and Hackney. The area now has a large population churn, and as one Finsbury Park community worker told me as part of my ongoing PhD research on the diversity of the area:

There’s a lot of migration, that’s what I hear from people, they’re here for a short amount of time, whether it’s [due to] housing or whether it’s to a better place.

A superdiverse neighbourhood

The area could now be called "superdiverse”, meaning the migration has become more complex, and is no longer in the form of post-war waves of people coming for specific jobs. Diversity has many forms and residents vary by religion, ethnicity, legal and employment status, sexuality and class.

These days Finsbury Park is recognised for its North African presence with the top of Blackstock Road being colloquially called by some “little Algiers”. But a resident you meet on the street could equally be Polish, Congolese or Venzeulan. Languages spoken in the neighbourhood include Amharic, Portuguese and Albanian.

Through my research in the area I have found one of the biggest threats to Finsbury’s Park way of life is gentrification, the displacement of working class and migrant communities. It is clear the area is changing and the influx of larger corporate supermarkets, coffee chains and developments threaten the uniquely independent character of the area.

It now includes pockets, just streets apart, which vary from being among the 2 per cent most deprived in the country to the 50 per cent least deprived, in part due to the diversity of housing provision, ranging from social housing flats to sought after period houses in close proximity.

Rotisserie chicken on Seven Sisters Road, 2016. Image: author's photograph.

Yet amid this change, the multicultural metropolis shows no sign of receding. It is there to see on the street, at the convivial café, newsagent or park and through community and social interactions. Finsbury Park’s streets are superdiverse not just through the bodies moving through them, but through the goods that are sold there, the languages spoken, the smells of different foods cooking and through the interactions that occur.

You cannot walk down the street without being exposed to the multitude of lives being lived simultaneously. It is a place of intersection and exchange and it facilitates mobility, particularly as tens of thousands of people move through Finsbury Park every day through its transport hub.

International names inscribed on the street on and around Stroud Green Road, 2016. Image: author's photograph.

Amid all this, residents maintain respect for others and the area’s multiculturalism, often because they appreciate the difference of their neighbours. For example, in 2013 after women from St Thomas’ church and Finsbury Park Mosque realised they were based on the same street and yet hardly knew each other, they decided to set up a sisters group, meeting every couple of months to share lunch and tea, chat and practice a unique form of inter-faith solidarity.


The ConversationThese gestures of everyday multiculturalism show that Finsbury Park won’t be divided by an attack on its freedom precisely because its residents celebrate their differences. It is a neighbourhood which doesn’t seek sameness but thrives on variation and refuses to be defined. In the face of hate it unites, not in spite of, but because of its diversity.

Katherine Stansfeld is a PhD Candidate at Royal Holloway.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

In many ways, smart cities are really very dumb

Rio de Janeiro’s control centre. Image: Getty.

It’s not news that anything and everything is increasingly being prefaced with “smart”: phones, watches, homes, fridges, and even water (yes, smartwater exists). And it’s not unintentional either. 

Marketeers know that we, the public, are often stupid enough to believe that thanks to their technology, life is better now than it was way back in, say, the primitive Nineties. Imagine having to, like a Neanderthal, remember how to spell words without an autocorrecting algorithm, or open the fridge door to check if you’d run out of milk, or, worse still, interact with actual people.

So it’s hardly surprising that we’re now also witnessing the rise of the so-called “smart cities”; a concept which presupposes that cities that are not technologically  “smart” are dumb, which, as anyone interested in the millennia-old history of cities — from the crypto-currency grain storage algorythms of ancient Mesopotamia to the complex waste infrastructure of ancient Rome, to London’s public transport infrastructure — will know, is not true.

Deployed in these smart cities are cameras and other networked information-gathering devices, load cells and other “sensing devices” detecting passing pedestrians and vehicles, audio surveillance devices listening for gunshots – and even vending machines equipped with biometric sensors to recognise your face. This is not to mention beacon technology — tiny anonymous looking black boxes hidden in trees and on lampposts — which transmits advertising, offers and other information directly to smart phones in the vicinity. 

If that doesn’t seem sinister enough, take, for example, Rio de Janeiro, where, in 2014, the International Business Machines Corporation designed a mammoth “control centre” that integrates data from 30 agencies for the city’s police. 

Described by the Guardian as having “the functionality of a Bond villian’s techno lair”, the then local mayor, Eduardo Paes, claimed the centre was making the city safer while using technology to deploy its “special” police unit to carry out the state’s “pacification programme”. Launched in 2008, the programme, which aims to push out drug gangs from Rio’s favelas, has been criticised by Amnesty International: “in January and February 2017 in Rio de Janeiro alone, at least 182 people were killed during police operations in marginalized neighbourhoods (favelas) – a 78 per cent increase in comparison to the same period in 2016”.

Sinister or not, as smart cities grow, they create new problems. For example, as urbanist Adam Greenfield writes in Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life, neither the algorithms nor their designers are subject to the ordinary processes of democratic accountability – a problem that international academics are currently attempting to tackle.  


“We need to understand that the authorship of an algorithm intended to guide the distribution of civic resources is itself an inherently political act,” writes Greenfield. “The architects of the smart city have utterly failed to reckon with the reality of power.”

The Real Smart Cities project, founded by Dr Gerald Moore, Dr Noel Fitzpatrick and Professor Bernard Stiegler, is investigating the ways in which so-called “smart city” technologies present a threat to democracy and citizenship, and how digital tools might be used create new forms of community participation.

Fitzpatrick is critical of current discourses around smart cities, which he says “tend to be technical fixes, where technology is presented as a means to solve the problems of the city.” The philosophy underpinning the project is “that technologies function as forms of pharmacology”, he adds, meaning that they can be both positive and negative. “The addictive negative effects are being felt at an individual and collective level.” 

An example of this lies in the way that many of these smart cities replace human workers with disembodied voices — “Alexa we need more toilet roll” — like those used to control the Amazon Echo listening device — the high priestess of smart home. These disembodied voices travel at the speed of light to cavernous, so-called “fulfilment centres”, where an invisible workforce are called into action by our buy-it-now, one-click impulse commands; moving robotically down seemingly endless aisles of algorithmically organised products arranged according to purchase preferences the like of which we never knew we had — someone who buys a crime novel might be more likely to go on and buy cat food, a wireless router, a teapot and a screwdriver. 

Oh to be the archeologists of the future who while digging through mounds of silicon dust happen upon these vast repositories of disembodies voices. That the digital is inherently material and the binary of virtual/real does not hold — there is no cyberspace, just space. Space that is being increasingly populated by technologies that want to watch you, listen to you, get to know you and sense your presence.

One project looking to solve some of the problems of smart cities is that of the development of a “clinic of contribution” within Pleine Commune in greater Paris (an area where one in three live in poverty).This attempts to deal with issues of communication between parents and children where the widespread use of smartphones as parental devices from infancy is having effects on the attention of young children and on the communicative abilities between parents and children. 

This in turn forms part of a wider project in the area that Stiegler describes as “installing a true urban intelligence”, which moves beyond what he sees as the bankrupt idea of smart cities. The aim is to create a “contributory income” in the area that responds to the loss of salaried jobs due to automation and the growth and spread of digitisation. 

The idea being that an income could be paid to residents, on the condition that they perform a service to society. This, if you are unemployed, living in poverty and urban deprivation, sounds like quite a simple and smart idea to try and solve some of the dumb effcts of the digital technology that's implemented in cities under the ideology of being “smart”.