Field Note: Environment

A city’s environment can refer to its impact on global warming and nature, or how many people live there, but it can mean so much more. The environment includes the sub-cultures of a city, or the cities within a city. Though they may be well-established (think Chinatown in San Francisco), they are also fragile when pitted against the muscle and money of large businesses like Starbucks or supermarkets. Read on to learn more.

What makes this environment special or different?
A large city like London provides both opportunities and challenges. On one hand, London has 8.5 million residents, and the population is growing by 110,000 people each year. On the other hand, such a large population, economy, and business sector means a lot of money and resources that can be put towards improving London’s impact on the environment. Everyone looks to London for movie premieres, amazing West End shows, unlimited shopping options, night life, etc. That means that the UK population is also aware of how London is impacting the environment.

On a more geographical note, London curves around the River Thames. Historically, almost all large cities were based around ports on large bodies of water such as rivers or oceans. These continue to allow for a bustling shipping trade, as water is still how the largest and heaviest materials are transported.

Here in southeastern Britain, the weather is tamer than northern regions of the UK, like Scotland, where winters are very snowy and intense. Snow is more rare in London and doesn’t necessarily come every year.

What parts of this environment help people to live here?
Besides geography, the city’s infrastructure is incredibly important to help people live here. Infrastructure means the people and things behind the scenes that help the city run smoothly. This includes the public transportation network of buses, trains, and the underground Tube. It also involves building codes (ensuring that buildings are built safely), food safety standards, and so much more.

There are even more overlooked aspects of the London environment that are vital to helping people live here, such as the ways that different cultures cluster in certain areas of the city. London has many different regions that are very distinct¬†and easy to point out. Like I’ve mentioned before, the East End has a huge Bangladeshi population, and the West, like Notting Hill Gate, is considered a rich neighborhood, with flats and houses running upwards of $2 million. Multiple cultural centers help the diverse population find a home within the city. Each community acts as a city within a city, where the residents change the local culture to fit their customs. The population of the communities changes whether there are street vendors, what markets look like, the distribution of independent versus large companies (e.g. the local bakery versus a Starbucks).

What challenges do people face living in this environment?
There are many challenges to living in London. One is gentrification.¬†That’s a fancy word that describes large businesses invading neighborhoods. Imagine what would happen if a Walmart, Target, Starbucks, and Macy’s decided to move in one block down from your house. First off, they would be tearing down other homes. Second, the amount of traffic would increase, and the cost of your house would likely increase because it’s now in a more convenient location. But what if you’re renting? Then your rent goes up. If it goes up enough, you may not be able to afford to live there anymore, even though you’ve lived there your whole life.

If everyone in the community gets pushed out because of high rents, the culture of the neighborhood will look vastly different just because a few large businesses moved in. Now imagine how terrible this would be for small businesses. How can the small bakery next door to the Starbucks compete with that huge corporation? Sure, the bakery will have better quality goods, better service, and a family atmosphere, but they can’t lower their prices like a corporation can. Starbucks buys in bulk for their thousands of stores across the world, giving them discounts. A small bakery may only make three dozen of each type of pastry each day. It’s not fair to pit the small business against the large one, as it will likely kill the small business.

How have people been adapting to this environment?
There have been many protests lately to large businesses moving into small neighborhoods. Portobello Market in Notting Hill is one example. Notting Hill is a fancy neighborhood, but the market has been around for over a century. The increasing rent means that the people running the market, which includes fruits, vegetables, antiques, and more, can no longer live there.

So the culture of the residents of Notting Hill is now completely different than the culture of the Portobello Market. Both the market and the neighborhood are famous, so there is constant friction between the two.

In general, more people are speaking up about threats to their environment like large businesses, and because of the internet their issues are being heard. The internet has been a key communication tool aiding the residents of London in adapting to their environment, or adapting the environment back to their needs.


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