Saying ‘Non’ To Skyscrapers
‘You live here?’ said the hot dog seller incredulously. ‘I thought it was only office workers and students.’
This was the response I got from the chap who was preparing my mid-morning coffee at a stall in King’s Cross.
‘Yes,’ I told him, ‘go one street back from the station and you’ll find a kind of village where everyone knows everybody else. For now, at least. Anyway, how do you know they’re all just office workers?’
‘Oh,’ he said, ‘they always tell me to hurry up.’
Welcome to London in the new century.
The streets of the Victorian city were something well remembered by my grandparents, who were both born in the 19th century. They described a world that was dark and dank. Increasing ground rent had forced builders to overhang structures into the road so that buildings loomed over pedestrians, and the city was riven with sunless alleyways. Nowadays the windswept lifeless office plaza (complete with giant bit of abstract art) has replaced the teeming backstreet. Here are the workers who keep the machine running. They generally live far out of the centre.
According to the Financial Times, a recent attempt to form a residents association in a new London tower block was abandoned when it was realised that the majority of the apartment purchasers had never even come to London to collect their door keys. As the Mayor prepares to unleash much, much worse on London, the concept of property not as somewhere to live but as a stock of properties to be bought and sold for investment portfolios has become the norm.
Not so in Paris. They’ve had no high-rises built in 42 years, but all that was set to change with the Triangle tower, to be constructed in the South. The 180-metre pyramid would be the third tallest building within the city limits after the 324-metre Eiffel tower and the 209-metre Montparnasse tower, built in 1972. But a vote on plans to build the first Frog skyscraper has ended in chaos after the city’s opposition councillors were accused of violating a secret ballot that produced a narrow rejection of the project.
At least Parisians get a voice. We have no such chance in London, as our public hearings are toothless and under-attended, which will happen more as fewer and fewer live here, so few alterations are made that actually represent people’s needs.
First to oppose the Paris project as early as 2008 were the Greens, who deemed it environmentally unsound. They argued that it was unsustainable on all accounts: costing a lot in energy, almost entirely dedicated to businesses and not Parisians, and belonging to an already out-of-date brand of gigantic glass buildings such as London’s very own Eye of Sauron, the Shard. Budgeted at around $625 million, it was to be financed by private investors.
It will probably get pushed through, because this is what’s happening all over the world, but at least the French are discussing it before construction instead of complaining about it afterwards.
Now we discover that Joanna Lumley’s garden bridge across the Thames may not end up being so lovely at all, as details are emerging that it will be a private chargeable tourist attraction regularly closed off for corporate parties. It’s good that London continues to evolve, but it does so at the expense of those who, like me, still cling on to the absurd notion that we can afford to live in the city. The Crossrail project which is all but devastating parts of the West End is aimed at pumping a new workforce into the capital.
London will continue to be the biggest financial powerhouse in the world. It’s just that nobody will actually live in it.