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….

Roald Dahl, Norwegians, Doctor Who, and a Church

I watch the new Doctor Who series and the spin-off show Torchwood.  The Doctor Who episodes set in modern Cardiff are centered on Cardiff Bay and Torchwood is based in Cardiff Bay.  In the long shots of the area, I was most intrigued by the building pictured above.  I believed it must have been some sort of church.  When I was preparing to visit Cardiff, I was excited by the paragraph in my guidebook which referred to a repurposed church on Cardiff Bay.  I assumed that the building that intrigued me in Doctor Who and Torchwood must be the former Norwegian church now adapted to a rental facility.

On arriving at the site, I had a feeling that something was off.  It wasn’t until I stepped inside that I figured out what it was.  It turned out that this building never held a church.  I suppose that the lack of stain glass, the small widows, and the cannons outside should have been a clue, but with the peaked roof (not visible in the above photo), the gargoyles, and the central tower I didn’t know what else it could be besides a church.  The building is called the Pierhead and it guarded the port, or at least kept track of the traffic coming and going in the port.  It is open to visitors now as a museum of the port.  I learned a lot about the history of Cardiff from a short, entertaining film, such as the name came from Welsh for “Fort on the River Taff.”  The color and decoration of the interior also intrigued me.


When I left the Pierhead, I looked around the bay and quickly spotted the actual church described in the guidebook.  Norwegian sailors who passed through the port built this church (pictured below).  Roald Dahl was baptized here.  Now the building is used as a rental facility.  The sanctuary is the rental hall, when I was there it was being set up for a wedding reception on the following day; the choir loft level is now an art gallery; and the space below the choir loft, which I imagine would have been the entryway/gathering space, is now a coffee shop with some delicious pastries.  Unique features of this building included the model of a Norwegian sailing ship hanging from the center of the ceiling in the main room and a stain glass window that featured fish.  Unfortunately my camera temporary malfunctioned while I was visiting this building and as a result I do not have any shots of the interior.