But first a little background.
I’d been to a neighbourhood forum in the village at which – as is common at these events – the subject of traffic had arisen. A debate about parking enforcement, traffic calming, speed limits and the evilness of the lorry took place. A largely inconclusive debate.
A day or two later I was recounting this meeting to Kathryn (we do talk about the sexiest things) and she commented along these lines:
Why do we spend money on all these things? Can’t people just look out, take care and act like grown ups.
My words were lost – I could think of little to justify Bradford Council spending thousands (bearing in mind that ‘a thousand’ is roughly speaking the average council tax in the City) on further ‘interventions’ aimed at managing the traffic and, just maybe, improving road safety. In a place where there’s been no injury accident in 20 years.
Fast forward to today when I’m driving through Harehills.
I used to get annoyed by the road environment in these inner city places. But now I see it as just people getting on with their busy lives (and, despite the poverty, there’s a load of business going on). I watch smiling as the young man parks right on the lights, on a double yellow line, helps his elderly mum out of the car and then walks into the shop with her. There’s an Asian lady clutching two small children by the hand hovering in the centre of this busy road. And there’s a complete disregard for yellow lines, one way signs and all the controls of modern traffic management.
Here we see cars double parked. A couple of young Iraqis or Kurds are having an animated conversation while blocking the traffic from a side road. And there’s a load of great shops to cast the eye over – including the wonderfully named Noshi Food Store.
This is a properly busy place where people know there are risks – after all plenty of them ran a few risks to get to Leeds in the first place. And the two kids hanging onto that Asian lady’s hands will grow up to double park, drive too fast and hold animated conversations while holding up the traffic. But those kids – and some of the migrant and refugee folk arriving in Harehills – will also take other risks. They’ll start businesses, risk their own time and capital on the possibility of success. And a few will succeed – will make millions and will contribute more to our economy than the meagre pittance we shell out for them in support when they arrive.
And this is a contrast to the kids in the village. Carefully protected, coddled even. Protected from risks and surrounded by adults who tell them something or other isn’t safe, is not allowed, might be dangerous, will make them ill or will be frowned on by the neighbours. These kids – or most of them – will be fine. They’ll avoid risks like they’re told – not smoking, drinking only moderately, eating a healthy diet, getting an education. And then they’ll do what I did – get a job where they don’t need to take risks, where they can earn a living safely. For many they’ll wonder one day – perhaps like I do at 50 – why they didn’t take risks. Didn’t start that business. Put off trekking through the Andes. Bought a Toyota rather than a great big pick up.
The kids in Harehills don’t have that luxury. For them it’s take risks and have a chance of getting out of poverty. Or else a life of poverty. And they’ve been educated in risks at their mother’s knee (in the middle of Roundhay Road as well), at school and in the life of the streets where their life is played out.
And one day the kids from the village will wonder why those Kurds, Iraqis, Persians, Zimbabweans, Bangladeshis and Congolese have BMWs, big electric gates and flash watches.
It will be because they took the risks.