Let’s not throw away borough’s reputation, writes Sharlene Gandhi
Having travelled far and wide and been asked the classic question “where are you from?” I always proudly answer: “London, if you couldn’t tell from my accent!”
If, by any chance, my conversation partner happens to know London quite well, they’ll tend to extend the question to ask “where in London?” and I usually respond; “Enfield, in north London?” with an inflection in my tone because I know they’ll have no idea where Enfield is.
I’m secretly excited that there are still parts of London that have not quite made it onto the tourist map. Recently though, Enfield seems to have popped into the collective consciousness for all the wrong reasons. A university friend once observed that he recognised the name from a crime module that he was taking. Enfield also popped up in a lecture of my own for having some of the highest rates of homelessness and citizen vulnerability in the country. Suddenly, I started to feel ashamed.
The borough has experienced huge change and population growth – just under 15 percent between 2001 and 2011 alone. It encompasses affluent areas such as Winchmore Hill and Cockfosters, as well as less affluent areas such as Edmonton, where I grew up, a place that still struggles as its neighbouring districts undergo gentrification. Enfield is a place of contrasts and conflicts; a liminal space between city and country.
As I swapped my idea of Enfield from the view of a resident with that of a newcomer, I noticed not only the steady increase of homelessness, crime, and buildings being boarded up, but also the disturbing amount of rubbish deposited in green areas.
Plastic bottles and packaging are scattered around Enfield, whether or not the bin two steps away is completely full or completely empty. Is it anyone’s fault, or anyone’s responsibility, that we are letting one of London’s best-kept secrets rot under a sea of non-biodegradable waste?
We could blame the council for a lack of bins, failing to see our own laziness in putting the bins to use, while the authorities install new bins and blame citizens for not using them correctly. The answer comes not from blaming a large, siloed group of people, but rather accepting collective responsibility for our environment and the effects that this rubbish has.
Beyond being an eyesore and seeping into local vegetation and water systems, the spread and inappropriate disposal of rubbish has severe implications for human health. Chemical components of plastic can be ingested through the nose, mouth and skin. Part of the problem, of course, is that we do not see a plastic bottle as a threat to our health and wellbeing, but rather a tool of convenience.
At Lancaster University, my alma mater, the recycling bins around the campus had a variety of shaped holes; a round hole for bottles, a smaller round hole for coffee cups, and a thin slit for paper. This technique, centred on behavioural economics, inspires positive change.
We need the support of local authorities to help cultivate these habits and shape our current behaviours, such that recycling plastic becomes just as routine as recycling paper. Perhaps, like Lancaster University, Enfield could also benefit from behaviour-changing bins dotted around the borough, and we could then proudly remain one of London’s best-kept, and well-kept, secrets.
Read more comment by Sharlene on her blog Foreword Times: