The names of the places that make up the London Borough of Haringey are more famous than the borough itself. The same cannot be said for Islington, Hackney, Camden or a host of other boroughs. Tottenham, Crouch End and Highgate are well known, but the name of Haringey is sadly usually evoked with negative connotations. Harry Kane plays for Tottenham and the position of this national hero inside the borough of Haringey has not changed the perception of it.
Outside of North London, Haringey reminds people of either the Baby-P scandal or the battle between local people and different factions of the Labour Party that erupted over the Haringey Development Vehicle. I have especially enjoyed people who couldn't find Haringey on a map of London, opine on Twitter about what events in Haringey have to say about the state of the nation. Have they asked anyone who lives locally? No, that would require actual engagement with the complexities of an area.
After spending the better part of seven years variably living, working, volunteering and most importantly drinking in the London Borough of Haringey, I can say that I find most views expressed by people outside the borough as reductive and lazy. Responding to Haringey, if such a thing was possible, is the same as responding to the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe in one tweet. It's simply too varied to do it justice.
If you want to understand Haringey then I suggest you start by putting some boots on the ground. Take a walk and as we've having a rare spell of unbroken good weather, why not visit a few pubs as you go.
I began at the Green Rooms on Station Road, not far from Wood Green tube station, which is a classic Charles Holden design: geometrically shaped and bricked built. A modern, clean and functional design. The borough has several tube stations designed by Holden on the Piccadilly Line, who certainly the architect to have the biggest impact on London after Sir Christopher Wren.
The Green Rooms is one of the most individual pubs in London. The space reminds me more of East Berlin than East, North, Central London. The large windows let ample light spill in and the exposed brick work and wiring is an excellent execution of the modern ascetic. Art from local artists adorn the walls and there is a rotation of pop up restaurants that occupy the kitten. It goes without saying that the beer selection is very good, local favourite Beavertown Gamma Ray and German classic Paulaner Helles are frequently available. When I dropped by in the middle of the day, there were many people sitting alone at tables working on Mac Books.
So far this may seem so very London, but the Green Rooms is located in area that is subject to an ongoing postcode war that included a young man being disembowelled. I have several anecdotes about the space around Wood Green tube station, but I don't think the area is served by a white middle class man's poverty safari stories. What I will say is a fact: that Wood Green is in East Haringey and the average life expectancy in East Haringey is nine years less than West Haringey.
There is another point here: the mixing of craft beer and gang violence shows the changing face of London. East Haringey may have social and economic problems, but it’s also rapidly gentrifying. You can live a life at the Green Room, Crouch End Picturehouse and Jack's Off Licence (the best offie in the world, and I don't use those words lightly) without interacting with the poverty that surrounds you. I know, because that was my life before I started volunteering. Being a middle class white person or a poor person of colour in East Haringey is very much like living in Ul Qoma or Besźel in China Mieville's The City and the City.
I am trying to convey the complexities of Haringey, and you'll notice that I only mentioned East Haringey so far. After leaving the Green Rooms I hopped on a bus that took me on a tour of Haringey's suburban sprawl. Don't assume this was a bad experience. To summarise Jonathan Meades, sprawl is just sprawl, it can be good or bad.
Haringey has lots of lovely sprawl. There a Victorian terraces that are now blocks of flats. There are rows of small shops that border parks. There is interesting infill, something that I always find fascinating as they ask the question: what was there that needed to be filled in?
The bus took me past 1930s housing blocks that have ornate curved brick balconies and shopping parades where branded stores are being slowly driven out by local cafes/art galleries and interesting restaurants, whose menu can only be described as nationality X, but modern.
The bus ultimately arrived in Highgate Village. Filled with beautiful Georgian houses, which are mind bendingly expensive to own anywhere and in London I cannot imagine the level of wealth needed to purchase such a property. There is a level of wealth above the hipster craft beer drinker and above even the obnoxious City Boys.
Highgate Village does a better approximation of a country village than most other parts of London that have tried this. This is the village that many urban villages are modelled on. I dropped by The Flask, which is very much a country pub transposed to what is still TfL zone three. It has beautiful wooden interiors with nooks and carries that provide privacy. The most interesting part was wallpaper showing facades various buildings made in the neo gothic style. It goes without saying that the beer selection is very good, a full range of Fullers cask ales and craft beer is frequently stocked. There is also a leafy outside area complete with picnic tables that remind me of the canal side pub where I first sampled craft beer as a student.
Highgate Village, with its expensive cars and boutique shops, also has a pedigree for producing the country's poshest leftists. It has been home to both Miliband brothers and to Peter Mandelson (who is technically on the left, at least by this eye-wateringly posh part of the country’s standards). From its position on the side of a hill, Highgate Village commands views across London. On a clear day you can see Anish Kapoor’s Orbital in the Queen Elizabeth Park. From here it is possible to look down on the rest of London in every sense.
Highgate Village may seem more like Richmond, just as Wood Green feels more like Hackney, but the two places are united by being in same borough. A borough many people have tried to summarise glibly. Highgate is as disconnected from Wood Green (socially and politically) as the drinkers of the Green Rooms are from the drug dealers. In London we live shoulder to shoulder with people whose lives are completely unrecognizable to our own. This is something China Mieville understood. We share a space with people who are different to us, but we don't understand them and often we don’t see them. We're more likely to see their lives represented in our media than to engage with them.
The solution: take a walk more often. If you do this in Haringey then don't think of Haringey as a poor place or a place of hipster craft beer or a place full of wealthy people. Think of it as it is: varied.