Rhiannon Harries: What matters is how safe you feel

Urban Notebook
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Everybody has their own map of the city they live in, pieced together around daily journeys and favourite haunts. Unfortunately, I happen to live in a part of town marked with a "no-go" sign on a lot of people's imaginary plan of London.

Although plenty of arty students and young couples have since swept into the area, many non-residents still know Clapton, east London, as "murder mile" thanks to a stint in the media as the site of Britain's deadliest road some years ago.

Friends who live in leafier suburbs prefer not to visit of an evening, and taxi drivers do the in loco parentis "I hope you don't walk around here on your own at night, young lady" speech.

So when I got hold of the latest crime stats for the local borough, I was hoping to coax a few of my more nervous friends into giving my neighbourhood a second chance. Crime fell by 3.5 per cent (better than the London 2.3 per cent average) last year and there were almost 10,000 fewer victims than a decade ago. Surely that counts for something?

Well, apparently not – particularly since I was forced to admit that while knife crime is down, incidents involving guns have risen. "Great, so I'll be killed by a stray bullet rather than a knife?" one unconvinced west London-dweller quipped.

Crime figures do little good for public perceptions of personal safety because fear is always irrational to a certain extent. Anything above zero is enough to feed existing doubts, which themselves come from anecdotal evidence, previous experience of crime and simply the way an area looks. In the same way that I subconsciously believe it will never happen to me, others see a couple of kids on bikes and instantly think it will happen to them.

Still, I concede that my friends will indeed be safer if they continue to avoid coming to my place for dinner. Their chances of food poisoning, for instance, will be considerably reduced.

Not such modern dress

Efforts to make intimidating art forms accessible to a broader cross-section are laudable. But the contemporary staging of Cosi fan tutte that I saw last weekend at Covent Garden demonstrated the difficulty of appealing to an audience of differing generations. Whilst the mobile phones and Starbucks cups blended seamlessly into the action, the transformation of the 18th-century lovers into modern-day rock stars was more 1980s Guns 'n' Roses than Kings of Leon. Still, it was the right reference for the older half of the audience and I'm pretty sure my own ideas would probably have seemed passé to the teenagers sitting in the next row.