This is a post that compares, at a very basic level, two cities that have been “hometowns” to me at different times. One is Canterbury, in the southeast of England where I’ve lived and worked for the best part of the last 10 years and the other is Xanthi, in the northeast of Greece, where I grew up. Both have an official population of about 50,000.
Both have a huge number of students that increases the permanent population. Both have a very active university community, with popular universities and the life that comes with them. (…so far I am calling it a draw!).
Both have good reputations for safety and standards of living compared to other provincial towns and cities in their respective countries. Both can claim to be “multi-culti” in their own ways, with significant numbers of people who have moved there to live and work in one way or another, added to non-native speakers of English and Greek who also add to the respective mixes. (I am still calling it a draw, even if there are several issues of xenophobia, nationalism, local economy and other complications that differentiate the situations). They are both near the sea but here I am going to give extra points to Xanthi because its’ sea is the Aegean and it is blue and green, while Canterbury is surrounded by the English channel, enough said. So, first blood, Xanthi, I say. They both have too much traffic for their size. Mmmmm… Let’s look closer. Canterbury is congested because the medieval city in the center never needed to have any provision for cars. The two-floor houses that were built after the 19th century either had enough space to park in front of them or have a garage. Xanthi has no provision for the cars of the people who in their vast majority (over 90%) live in blocks of flats built when cars were a very clear reality but those who built them and those who approved of the plans were keen to built them without parking provision or any provision for the traffic that would follow. Clearly points for Canterbury. Xanthi has a much higher percentage of home ownership than Canterbury, and by that I mean right-out ownership, not with a mortgage. Great, points to Xanthi, right? Well, if you are looking at it from a “capitalism and banking sucks” point of view, yes. But, here is the thing. Until recently nothing (or very little) could or did happen to people who decided not to pay whatever they were supposed to pay in relation to the property ownership. That included service charges, council taxes, maintenance etc, including when they were in a block of flats. This has now become an epidemic and many blocks of flats don’t have heating, sometimes electricity for the common spaces. The same, at a different level, happens as regards the city councils and the relevant services. So, points to Canterbury I say, where if you don’t pay, you need to officially ask for help. If you do, the authorities examine the situation and give you some help, otherwise you lose what you’ve got.
Xanthi of course has cheaper properties and cheaper rent, so, points Xanthi.
Both have illustrious neighbours. From Canterbury you can be in central London in 55 minutes and in central Paris in about two hours if you time it well. From Xanthi you can be in Thessaloniki in about 2 hours and in Istanbul in a few more. I think points Canterbury because you can work full time in London and live there, and that, my friends, is a big plus. If you live in Xanthi, there are 3 options. Either you work in Xanthi or thereabout, you are unemployed, or in the most exotic scenario, you work in Komotini, where opportunities and wages differ very little. For the above reasons, in Xanthi you can buy a place to live and in Canterbury you probably can’t, even though admittedly, I don’t know you personally 🙂 I’ll split the points here, I think.
Canterbury has less of a nightlife because of strict regulations, cathedral city and all. Normally I’d say that this is a good thing but because I’ve got a soft spot for having a few options when you want to have a drink at 1 a.m. I’ll give the points to Xanthi, where such options exist, albeit in bars that blatantly violate timetables, planning permissions, health and safety regulations and so on, therefore lowering the living standards of people who want to sleep at 2.00 a.m., in favour of those who want to tax evade by selling alcohol (also to minors). Cheating, but I’ll give the points to Xanthi. (I fully realise such things seriously damage the tax-paying economy, ok, don’t get me wrong.) In such situations, the owners of such establishments in Canterbury would be in jail after paying massive fines and losing the right to run similar businesses once they were released but where is the fun in that, I ask you? So, a close call until now.
Here is the match winning goal: In Canterbury, since I’ve lived here, I have on several occasions spotted a particular elderly woman going around town on her own, but many times I’ve spotted her doing her supermarket shopping, also on her own. I’ve seen her on her way to the supermarket, about a mile away from it, at the supermarket which is the same one I go to, and on her way back (remember these because they are really important). At the supermarket, an employee helps her reach the shelves because it isn’t easy for her. She is in a wheelchair. And she is blind. Canterbury is a better city than Xanthi will ever be.