Café Society

The footbridge that conveniently isolates Primrose Hill from the rest of Camden.

Café Society

By Allison Mazur

May 30, 2016

Today we visited Camden which is home to Primrose Hill, Regent’s Park, and Camden Market among other attractions. What struck me about Camden was the stark dichotomy between the well-off and the not-so-well-off, especially heightened by our tour guide’s lens of homelessness. It was like the second we walked across the footbridge from Camden to Primrose Hill area, you could feel the status difference. The buildings were cleaner, the people were better dressed, you could almost smell the money in the air. Mike, our Unseen Tour Guide, didn’t even need to tell us that Primrose Hill is one of the most desirable neighborhoods in London.

The pink house in the middle (obstructed by the tree – oops) is the former home of Sylvia Plath, author of the Bell Jar.

Primrose Hill is the backdrop of many films such as Paddington Bear. It also houses an abundance of celebrities including Daniel Craig, Chris Martin, Tim Burton, Kate Moss, and the like. Yet Camden is also known for its vibrant punk/alternative music scene, featuring bands like The Clash and The Smiths. Amy Winehouse is also a huge star in Camden, even having a statue to commemorate the songstress.

Part of the bustling Camden Market, one of the artsier areas of Camden.

In addition to the wealthy and artsy sections of Camden, there’s also the problem of homelessness, which our tour guide Mike was able to describe to us firsthand having been homeless himself. He described Primrose Hill as having a café society, meaning it is common for friends to gather at cafés to have a drink and watch passerby. However, when Mike was homeless he said he felt like a voyeur because he didn’t have the money to partake in the café society that was normal of Primrose Hill. Mike said not only did he have financial issues while homeless and unemployed, but his social life suffered and with that his mental health also deteriorated. It was interesting to learn about the other side of homelessness, not just what you hear about or see in the media. For instance, Mike had a successful career before he became homeless due to the economic crashes in the 2000s, but what we learn from the media is that “most people brought homelessness on themselves” due to things like substance abuse and addiction.

One of the many quaint cafés that line the streets of Primrose Hill.

I have experienced similar feelings of schisms in my other two homes: Lansing, Michigan, and Washington, DC. What is similar in all three locales is that there are pockets of wealthier areas, but people who are less fortunate live right down the street. Lansing neighbors East Lansing, which is home to thousands of students, who are wealthy enough to afford an education (not saying most students are rich because HELLO STUDENT LOANS, but being able to afford higher education is most definitely a privilege not everyone has access to). Lansing also houses downtown Lansing and Old Town, home to many businesses and businesspeople. Yet we constantly see homeless people on Grand River Avenue and the 1 bus.

Similar things can be said for DC, particularly Georgetown. Georgetown is home to Georgetown University and M Street, a popular shopping district. Similar to Primrose Hill, Georgetown is not easily accessible via the Metro (or footbridge for Primrose Hill), and there is limited car parking. One anecdote that I have about Georgetown says it all. In the midst of the crowded streets filled with shoppers carrying bags from Lululemon, Kate Spade, Tory Burch, and Louis Vuitton, there sits a homeless man on the sidewalk wearing a foam pink whale Vineyard Vines hat asking for spare change, but people pass by him as if he were invisible.

It’s strange how we can live just down the street or even next to someone who is struggling financially, and just turn a blind eye. Even as students we have so much more than those who are unemployed or homeless, although it may not seem like it as we are struggling with debt. It was interesting, albeit sad, to see how homelessness can be masked by fancy houses and wealthy celebrities.

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