Where New York Goes, Will London Follow?
As uplifting blogs go, Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York doesn’t exactly tick all the boxes. But as a catalogue of what NYC is losing in terms of indie funk, quirkiness and originality it can’t be beaten. The site, here, posts images and stories about various original independent venues which are being forced out of the city by high rents, to be replaced by chains. Many of the properties are ridiculously young by our standards (1995? C’mon, that was yesterday!) but it’s hard not to think of the same thing happening here.
When Dunkin’ Donuts proudly advertises that it has 515 outlets in New York, and you realise that many have been placed where there once stood interesting shops, you can see the problem. London now has, in place of the not-much-lamented Swiss Centre, an M&M world (what on earth do kids do in there?) and the appallingly shonky W Hotel so beloved by Russian hookers.
Once the Alhambra was here surrounded by elegant curved-glass shopfronts. Once there was Gatti’s and Gamages, Derry & Toms and Marshall & Snellgrove. Once there was the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly where now the pavements are lit by the gigantic LED sign of a suppurating Big Mac.
There are dozens of websites and plenty of books describing what’s disappearing, like ‘Vintage London’, a magnificent collection of London photographs in colour, and ‘The London We Have Lost’ by Richard Tames. You can’t live in the past, of course, but it comes as a shock to realise that the capital’s centre was cleaner, faster, tidier, more elegant and glamorous than it ever could be now. At the end of your shopping day out you could board the Silver Link at King’s Cross and dine on lobster (2s/-) or fillet steak (2/6d) and be in Newcastle in under 4 hours.
Manhattan is, of course, uniquely problematic, being largely bounded by water, but London can spread. However, the West End is finite, and although the Crossrail project will eventually bring benefits it is, at the moment, forcing out many of the capital’s most original places.