John's Cambridge Page

I didn't think of writing a web page about my local town for a long time after I started my ``places'' directory. What could this say about Cambridge and about me? That it's crammed with tourists and I don't like tourists? Yes, probably. That it's crammed with ``shoppers'', and I don't like ``shoppers''? Yes, probably. That most of the things I do (church, supervising, and ringing, cb1) there i've already covered elsewhere? Yes, that too. So here is a page about Cambridge as seen by me, including the things I don't like about it, and the things that keep me going there anyway.


Near the heart of the problems with Cambridge is local government policies that amount to the dumbing-down of a great university city. It's very noticeable that local government here, in effect, represents primarily (or almost only) those who hate anyone with degree-level or higher education.

Policies are put forward as ``helping local people''. Looking at who might be helped by these policies, it readily becomes clear that ``local'' primarily means ``unqualified and unskilled'', and has nothing to do with where anyone lives or where they were born.

The extensive availability of high-tech jobs in the area has, naturally, resulted in many technically educated people moving into the area, in turn changing the social balance of the area. Local government is fighting back through social housing policies, to keep around people for whom there are few jobs in the area -- or to put it more bluntly, to try to keep the average level of qualifications and abilities in the area down to something with which they feel comfortable.

It is important that, throughout the country, jobs of some kind should be available to those who are unskilled and inherently cannot become skilled -- but let's not pretend about what this is.

The central shops and the ``pedestrian zone''

Local government has repeatedly said it wants to ``support the city centre shops'' -- which it sets in contrast with out-of-town shopping centres, which it claims are hard to get to without a car. But with the appalling local public transport, the city centre shops aren't easy to get to (and back from with shopping) for anyone.

There are two other things that supporting the city centre shops is incidentally in contrast with:

  1. local shops, not needing transport to get to
  2. city centre offices and labs, which could employ a similar number of people but wouldn't need to transport large numbers of punters in to them

Ostensibly to help the shoppers, who apparently have difficulty crossing roads which are used by cyclists (the pedestrians would have to look where they're going, which is apparently too much to ask), the area around some of the centre has been designated a ``Pedestrian Zone''. This causes considerable incovenience to the residents of this area (students) for whom cycling is the most practical form of transport. It was immediately suspected that the ``Pedestrian Zone'' was largely aimed at annoying them -- later confirmed by the local government trying to get buses allowed into it while still banning bikes -- a bit of a giveaway that it is anti-bike rather than pro-pedestrian.

It's also noteworthy that they are so arrogant in their hatred of the capable that they held a public enquiry which recommended against the bike ban -- and ignored it because it didn't say what they wanted.

The theory that the bike ban is anti-student or anti-intellectual rather than generally anti-bike is reinforced by the council not seeming to object to people cycling on the pavements (US translation: sidewalks) which seems to be the cyclists not intelligent enough to cope with traffic, or trying to look rebellious.

I agree that it's good to provide a specialized safe area for those too severely mentally handicapped to cross an ordinary road. Also, there's something to be said for providing an area where those who find it stressful to take responsibility for their movements don't have to do so. But there's no need to use for either of these somewhere that's already established for use by active, busy people with things to do. And when it begins to look as though much of the motivation is not the convenience of the incapable, but the inconvenience of the capable, then it is clearly a matter of spiteful envy, and I won't go along with it at all.

There are also a couple of inconsistencies here:

  1. many of the city centre shops are parts of large chains, and the profits almost certainly don't end up helping local people (beyond a pittance)
  2. many of the city centre shops just sell tourist tat anyway, and not anything useful to anyone who lives nearby (who are largely students)
  3. Tourism is promoted as being a vital large employer. In fact it's tiny compared with education and technology (although the public nuisance it causes is relatively large for its size). Were they to be honest about it, they should be calling it a large employer of the unskilled (and unscrupulous).

The local government problem

A lot of the problems can be traced to the arrogant inverse snobbery of the local government, as exemplified by their ignoring the result of the public enquiry about the bike ban. Other publicized examples of their behaviour include devising increasingly strict regulations for trishaw operators (far stricter than the taxi regulations, and evidently designed to stop the trishaws -- this seesm to have been to favour the taxi operators), and ordering an illegal pesticide to be sprayed on verges in South Cambridgeshire (the contractor objected and publicized this, and got a gagging order placed on him to keep quiet about it).

Latest little bit of stupidity (June 11th 1999): resurfacing Madingley Road Park and Ride, which didn't need it, with a surface that makes the markings harder to read and causes little bits of gravel to be spread around. It's also less hygeinic in case of cuts and grazes against it -- tarmac is actually slightly antiseptic. I'm trying to find out whether this was ordered by some unaccountable bureaucrat or whether some elected ``representative'' has friends in the resurfacing business -- or perhaps they're just trying to use up their budget for the year.
And here's another (August / September 1999): the ``Mr Blobbee'' pavement between Great St Mary's and the Senate House, a bizarre mixture of pink and grey paving. If there's any deliberate motivation behind this, the only thing I can think of is that it's to reduce the dignity of University ceremonies without actually impacting on the tourist trade financially. But that may be crediting local government with a degree of deliberate action when in fact it's just random behaviour. The pavement may well produce gurgles of delight from people with an age of up to two (or equivalent if not very bright), but will probably have three-year-olds asking ``why is path that silly colour, Mummy?''. Someone has commented that it's a bit ``piazza-like'', which reminds me that the council wanted to replace the market (which is a real one, selling useful everyday things) with a piazza to suit the tourists -- with a large golden ball on a stick in the middle of it as modern art. Also, I gather they've carved the wrong street-names in stone on the funny-shaped benches.

The trap

It's hard to get out of this, because anyone standing on an anti-stupidity policy for election to local government would have the pro-stupidity people claiming that they were oppressing the simple.

There may, however, come a time when local government policy gets sufficiently stupid that the whole edifice may crumble -- that their attempts to acheive their aims will be so severely bungling that they will acheive the opposite (having unrealistically stupid aims helps with this). Signs are that this has already started, as some shops have left the city centre, as it is getting too inaccessible for their customers -- as a result of the councils' transport policies designed to cram more people into the centre.

John C. G. Sturdy
[John's home] Last modified: Sun Jun 10 22:12:57 GMT Daylight Time 2007