Estate agents are forever looking for the next run-down area that can be gentrified, but certain spots defy what used to be called ‘Yuppification’, particularly in London, where post-war housing estates created no-go areas of criminality.
For years I lived in Kentish Town, a slightly down-at-heel spot inhabited by council tenants, nurses, writers, artists and an older generation of Irish workers. It was always considered to be edgy but fairly safe, and everyone thought it would one day smarten up its act. After all, it was central and accessible, with good schools. But by the time I left, nothing much had changed.
Moving to King’s Cross, central London’s roughest patch, at a time when a vast package of reforms had been agreed, I watched a ‘hood famous for its junkies and prostitutes transformed into the gateway to Europe, thanks to the Eurostar terminal. On TV I saw someone complaining that the area had lost its edge and grew angry that anyone could find muggings and harassment preferable to safe clean streets.
Recently, after living for seven years with potholes in my street, the roadway got dramatically made over – but only because the Olympic torch is being carried down it.
So I know about edgy neighbourhoods. But as we’re thinking of possibly buying a bolt hole in Barcelona, in a part of the Old Town that even the police used to avoid, I’m wondering just how edgy I’m prepared to be. New York may consider itself the city that never sleeps, but here the evenings start at 10pm, children are still out way after midnight and it’s common to see people on benches still chatting as dawn rises. And although the streets of Old Town Europe may give tourists the terrors, behind the crumbling walls you often find spectacularly glamorous air-conditioned lofts.
So I’ve been photographing the night areas where I’m looking, and dealing with my own preconceptions. Bear in mind that behind the scrawled-over front door is a very stylish modern loft, and in the alleyways are fashion shops and museums. Most streets feel much safer than they look, although as one flat I saw appears to back onto an all-night skateboard hotspot, you wouldn’t get much sleep there. And very thin people did try to sell me drugs quite a lot. But then you turn a corner and come into the beautiful square below. My idea of hell is living in the suburbs – I don’t have the right mindset for neighbourhood committees, as you’ll know if you’ve read my novel ‘Psychoville’.
I’m pretty certain that your neighbourhood is not edgy if it has a Hugo Boss store.
Perhaps its better to always keep stepping beyond your safety zone.