Visualizing the Wealth Gap

My experience in Tijuana, Mexico, was the first time I remember noticing stark visuals of concentrated poverty and concentrated wealth side-by-side, with an effort to hide the poverty. I had seen poor areas and rich areas around the US prior to that, but never remembered that stark side-by-side contrast.

The next time I experienced a physical and emotional reaction to this kind of contrast was as an adult in Cardiff, Wales. I spent three or four days exploring the city and suburbs, while based in the center of the city near the Castle. The city center and the roads I walked while searching for adaptively reused religious structures (see Newport Road, Cathedral Road, and Inkspot) averaged a well maintained appearance. Some of the buildings were used by agencies providing supportive services, but overall, it gave me the impression of a blended mixed-income environment.

As a fan of Doctor Who, I couldn’t go to Cardiff without visiting Cardiff Bay, the location of a volatile rift in time and space where the Doctor and his companions have several adventures. When I looked up directions from my hotel, the recommendation was to take a light rail line. However, it was only a mile or mile and a half away and basically straight down one road. I chose to walk.

A few blocks from my hotel, after crossing a dividing swath of railroad tracks and highway, I entered a residential section of town. On one side ran identical row houses showing signs of poverty. On the other ran a stone wall 10-12 feet high above which ran the light rail tracks. The houses stopped before the end of the line, where there was a transition of what appeared to be underutilized mixed-use buildings before the touristy Cardiff Bay area began.

Around the Bay were several tourist destinations, shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues. Several shops and restaurants catered to a clientele wealthy enough to make me feel nervous about approaching too close in my serviceable, middle class, traveling clothes. Wandering around the Bay reinforced the feeling that started when I walked through the residential area. I felt that I had yet again gone where tourists weren’t intended to go. Tourists were welcomed in the City Center with shops, restaurants, a castle, museums, and places of business, or in Cardiff Bay with shops, restaurants, museums, and entertainment. But to travel between the two, tourists were supposed to take the light rail (raised above and shaded by trees from the poor residential area) or take a taxi down the fast road on the other side of the tracks, thereby remaining ignorant of the presence of the hard working families and individuals of limited means in the midst of these two wealthy, tourist hubs.

I felt indignant on behalf of the residents over the obvious investment in the City Center and Cardiff Bay and equally obvious disinvestment of this residential neighborhood….