A City Of Shopkeepers 2
No sooner was the ink drying on the piece below when the argument for and against sightlines in London cropped up on America’s NPR. This time Paul Finch, a critic at Architects’ Journal, is concerned by what he says is the implication that instead of just preserving views of the Tower of London, UNESCO is urging the city to protect what visitors see from it. â€¨ “The idea that we’re going to start protecting views from these historic monuments and places is a form of madness,” says Finch. ‘There is a danger of ending up with great swaths of a city, which cannot accommodate taller buildings.’
This is the kind of Â sophistry we’ve come to expect from egotistical corduroy-cladÂ architectural critics desperate to put their personal stamp on a two thousand year-old city. UNESCO does not protect great swathes of London – there are in fact only two sites, with two others outside of the centre, Kew and Greenwich. Some of us have memories long enough to recall London’s architects championing other disasters. But then we have Ed Lister, the deputy mayor in Boris’s office, weighing in.
‘UNESCO is taking a very, very black-and white-position, and I’m afraid life’s not like that,” says Lister. ‘You cannot allow development to be stalled in a city like this. London’s grown by 600,000 people in just the last five years. And we will be over 9 million people before New York. That’s the pressure that the city’s under.’ London is not under pressure by business to build skyscrapers within a couple of miles of St Paul’s when it could just as easily put them in the area designated for big business in the 1980s – Canary Wharf.
Just as the promotional video for King’s Cross features someone banging on about the fabulous retail opportunities of the area’s unique Victorian arches without a hint of irony (and to be fair, they’re at least fairly hidden away) Lister is pandering to pressure from financiers rather than maintaining any sense of the City itself. London is unique in that it does not ring-fence an ‘old town’ as Paris, Prague, Vienna, Amsterdam and virtually every other European city does. That this freedom has never been abused before is understood; it’s a very British approach. But now it seems the gloves are off. And the epitaphs of these people will read that they handed money to London’s rich, rather than improving the lives of its residents.