Violence On Our High Streets

The riots have spread across London. Looting, vandalism and violent acts – the behaviour on view for people watchers or psychologists brave enough to venture out. Some of the images on TV are certainly shocking, yet this isn’t a giant leap from what our high streets have generally become.

Our high streets are dangerous places at night. Window shoppers have been wiped out by the need for metal shutters. Groups of youths gather, with nothing to amuse them. The only other visible life is a burly man or two at a doorway, who refuse the underage entry, to a so-called adult world inside, where the pain of all this is numbed.

At the end of Friday night, inebriated young men and women repopulate the high street with violence and vomit. It is no place for others. By day the high street is for us all, but as darkness cloaks the street we endure segregation. With segregation comes a lack of attachment and care.

Art illuminates these shadows beautifully. Pop music can be powerful, as James Hillman said, it brought down the Berlin Wall:

 Watching the people get lairy

It’s not very pretty I tell thee

Walking through town is quite scary

And not very sensible either . . .

I tried to get to my taxi

The man in the tracksuit attacks me

He said he saw it before me

And wants things to get a bit gory. . .

And if there’s anybody left in here

That doesn’t want to be out there – I predict a riot. (KaiserChiefs 2007)

The KaiserChiefs are not mystical prophets, they were just reporting on a situation. If there are places we don’t feel safe, we should be doing something about it not waiting for it to get worse.

The Suzy Lamplugh Trust announced the Top Ten Safest and Most Violent Places to Live in the UK. As most of us might expect, urban areas dominate the latter. Knife crime in London in particular is higher than ever before. We have to ask if it suits human beings to live so close to one and other in urban environments. High density housing, a lack of green space and blocked perspectives appears to result in furious rebellion. This rebellious energy can be exploited in gangs.

‘The more people live together in heaps, the stupider and more suggestible the individual becomes.’ Carl Jung

When we see teenagers looking angry on street corners. When we read of violent streets. And when we blame parents, hormones and the police. We must also look at our planners and politicians. These are people living in limited space, without nature, beauty or dreams. If they lived in a beautiful neighbourhood they would at least have something to be proud of and feel attached to. For something to love they turn instead to materialism; sports shoes, plasma TVs and jewellery; the only things on display. If they cannot buy these things they hit out and take them, just to have something of which they can be proud.

It is interesting to look at what these rioters target with seemingly pointless acts of vandalism. And which things they leave alone.