Love It, Loathe It, Leave it.
There’s a lot of talk in the press this week about the sterilisation of London, how glass boxes and ‘retail experiences’ are replacing entire scruffy streets to cause the greatest overall change since WWII at incredible speed. The fear is that the core of the city will vanish and it will cease to be London as we know it – but is this true?
We notice when bad things appear; the 02 is still a lousy venue with bad sightlines and a ringroad of rubbish junk-food outlets, but it was built on the site of a gasworks. Westfield is probably the most mind-numbing retail destination in London, but there was nothing much on that site, either. Sadder are the losses of Camden Lock, turned into a tourist graveyard by rapacious developers and Camden Council, the destruction of Leicester Square, Spitalfields and now Portobello, but there are plenty of less obvious sites left.
The South Bank is still bearable (only just, on a summer’s day), the parks are mostly intact except when corporate tents are erected in them as a way of monetising them. Covent Garden seems fine, just busy, and Holborn is better than it was. So do you go with the flow and mark it down to the evolving metropolis, or do you lament what’s being lost?
For me the biggest change is the loss of my closest friends as they move out one by one, heading for coastal areas. London has simply priced them out. And the move has proved less than idyllic for some. One friend left a great job and now works in a call centre as jobs are harder to come by near his new home.
I delight in keeping a roster of affordable, fun places that don’t get too crowded where I can catch up with my remaining friends. Writing about the new London is a challenge because well, there’s simply less to write about. Who needs to know about the corporate boxes lining the City Road, or so-called Silicone Roundabout? It’s easy to blame London architects for being such dullards, but they’re only responding to developers who don’t consider the overall impact of their buildings.
Maybe it’s time to explore the suburbs of the city, which have been overlooked for decades…
NB at the top, old Leadenhall Market. At the bottom, the new Leadenhall Square.