This is Chingford Mount. It is the shopping centre, the town centre if you like, of my parish. It’s where people meet; it’s where several bus routes terminate and originate. You can just about see the open space of Albert Crescent, overlooked by Aroma café.
There is also quite a lot of road. This is a busy junction. It is at the metaphorical – if not geographical – heart of the parish. And it is a place of anger, impatience and aggression. Almost every time I cross here, I see signs of this. I see the lights being jumped. I see cars aggressively overtaking. I hear horns blared at pedestrians who take longer to cross than their alloted moments allow. I hear unparliamentary language. I see unsavoury hand gestures. And I fairly often see litter jettisoned through car windows.
We have heard much lately about the absolute crisis of air pollution in London.
But what about the pollution of our souls, our psyche, as well as our lungs? What does it do to a community when this is what lies at its heart?
What is the effect of the daily diet of this negativity, this selfishness and this dominance of car over pedestrian?
The insidious, daily drip-drip-drip of the worst side of people. Dripping into the toddlers that wait patiently for the green man. Dripping into the schoolchildren who dash for buses. Dripping into the elderly and infirm whose right to walk at their pace is negated by the countdown beeps hurrying them out of the way of the cars.
The heart of the parish is given over to the car. Everyone else’s mode of transport and way of being is secondary.
Yes, I drive when I have to, and I no longer have a stressful commute to work, like some of the drivers I encounter. Cars themselves are a useful tool. And I am sure that those people driving aggressively across my patch pay their taxes, call their Mums regularly, parent their children well. But it saddens me to see so much anger, aggression and self-centredness on a daily basis.
Love your neighbour, says Jesus. Perhaps this might be a place to start.
I don’t have an answer to this. Well, not a practical one, since turfing over the junction and planting trees wouldn’t work. I think I just want people to think about what it is that might be at the heart of the parish, and the effect that has on us all whether we are conscious of it or not.