>An ill wind blows east


Popbitch is not my usual source for this blog, but this week it had a little gem of a fact:

“The west of cities in the Northern Hemisphere are posher than the east because the winds blow west to east – i.e. back in the Industrial Revolution pollution drifted eastwards.”

The theory was set out in more detail on the Januarist blog. Prevailing winds would blow industrial stink over the slum housing in the east, driving the pollutants away from the upscale areas out west. On closer inspection, this theory doesn’t stack up well when applied across the whole of the Northern Hemisphere. It is especially flawed when applied to the US – think South Central, L.A., Southside, Chicago, the south-east quadrant of Washington D.C.  and the Bronx to the north of Manhatten.

But, there is obviously a grain of truth to the east/west divide. The Pet Shop Boys sang of West End Girls and East End Boys, and comparing EastEnders  with Made In Chelsea shows which side is the salubrious end of town.

London is the most obvious example of an east/west wealth divide. Heading east past the City brings you to Whitechapel, Poplar, Stratford and Canning Town. Going to the west end might take you to Mayfair, Knightsbridge, Marylebone or Notting Hill.

But it is not the only example. Glasgow has its own East End, almost as infamous in poverty and standing in stark contrast to Hillhead, Dowanhill, Kelvingrove, Kelvinside, Hyndland to the west of the city. Manchester and Leeds also have an east end of sorts – Manchester East and East End Park respectively.

In Bristol, grimy St Paul’s, Easton, Eastville face Clifton, Cabot, Stoke Bishop to the west. In Sheffield the Peak District embraces westerly Hallam whilst east of the city lie the decidedly dicey Burngreave and Nether Edge. In Birmingham, Sparkbrook, Sparkhill, Duddestone are east, Edgbaston and Harbone are west.  The rule even applies to my home city of Preston, with Frenchwood, Deepdale and Ribbleton stretching east from the city centre and comprising some of the poorest parts of town.

There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. Some of London’s poorest areas are in the south, and north Kensington has historically been rough as docker’s palms. In Leicester the rule is reversed, with Leicester West being poorer than Leicester East and in Edinburgh the poorest areas are to the north.

I decided to investigate whether the historical rule applied today by inspecting the Guardian’s impressive data set mapping poverty in England. Set out in forensic and colourful detail, a patchwork quilt of deprivation and wealth emerges, stretching down to ward level and revealing stark patterns across the country. And it confirms that the ‘east is poor’ rule still, by and large, applies to the UK’s major cities.

One recent trend is to promote east end urban development and regeneration through major sporting events. The London Olympics in 2012 are the most obvious example, centred on Stratford and encompassing some of London’s poorest (and easterly) boroughs. But it is preceded by East Manchester’s successful hosting of the Commonwealth Games in 2002 and the regeneration of Sports City and New Islington that accompanied it. It will be followed by Glasgow hosting the same event in 2014, with events and developments centred on its own East End.

So, as far as the UK goes, east is east and west is west. But, increasingly, the two do meet and often end up living in a brand spanking new apartment near a sports complex in a previously derelict side of town. 

If you liked that, try http://bitofhistoryrepeating.blogspot.com/2011/08/panic-on-streets-of-london.html for a historical view of the London riots.