London bids farewell to young street rebels

16th March 2016, Comments 0 comments

Once the crucible of youthful rebellion, London's streets have been emptied of punks, skinheads and rude boys by the rise of the Internet, a lack of public spaces and protective parents.

Punk was born in fashion designer Vivienne Westwood's clothes shop "Sex" 40 years ago, bringing anarchy to the posh Chelsea neighbourhood.

"The police used to have to wait at Sloane Square and round up all the punks as they got off the Tube," recalled Westwood in her memoirs.

"Once they had about 200 of them, they would escort them in a procession down the King's Road to the shop".

This was 1976, when Britain only had three television channels, families were large and parents wanted teenagers out of their hair and out the house.

But urban tribes are today a rare breed on the capital's streets, a trend echoed across Britain.

"People still go out and want to be seen, they have that urge to be looked at. The only change is that people have access to a lot more media," photographer Derek Ridgers, author of "78-87: London's Youth" told The Daily Telegraph.

According to an Ipsos Mori survey published in December, 68 percent of British 15 year-olds spend 10 hours a day on weekends engaged in non-physical past times such as watching television, playing video games, surfing the Internet or reading.

At the same time, crime and alcohol consumption have decreased significantly, although a link has not been proven.

In 2013/2014, nearly 22,400 young English people were convicted or reprimanded for the first time, a 75 percent decrease over 10 years.

- 'Constant pings' -

"Young people still can be found on the streets and other public outdoor spaces at certain times and places, but it is probably true to say their overall presence has been reduced," said Paul Hodkinson, a sociology professor at the University of Surrey.

"Societies and authorities have become increasingly intolerant of young people hanging out in public spaces," while parents are more preoccupied with the safety of their children, he told AFP.

"If the Internet disappeared, I would see my friends much more," said Spencer, 16, from Chesham, a town northwest of London.

"It's easier," countered 15-year-old Nathan, from Chiswick in southwest London. "It's more fun to play videogames, and we can talk and have a coffee while doing it."

"I would choose to be with my friends and have fun. However, this is not a possibility because we have too much work," added Phoebe, 16.

"On Facebook our year group have a chat so that we can ask each other about homework which is extremely helpful," she said.

Ivy, 15, from London neighbourhood Queen's Park, said she would "prefer to hang out with my friends on the street" than spend time on the web, but admitted she would "panic" without the Internet.

However, her mother Liz Corcoran bemoaned the incessant interruption of the virtual world, complaining "there are constant messages and pings."

But for Hodkinson, the popularity of social networks is "more a symptom of the lack of possibilities to congregate in physical space" rather than a cause of the exodus off Britain's streets.

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