London Norf & Sarf
Is London still a city of two halves? Divided traversely by the Thames, its two sides are still fundamentally different. Historically, it’s easy to see why. The South was easily flooded marshland, so was filled with factories and cheap workers’ homes. The North had hills and therefore attracted the rich, who love a vista. The South soil was clay-based, so no tubes were built there and trams were installed. Naturally, the South had more pubs. The Thames kept the two halves separate.
The accents of Londoners from either half were different, too, and their homes looked different; shorter and more squat in the south, taller and of deeper red brick in the north. But it gets complicated in the late Victorian era, because the South developed grander areas – Brixton and Clapham had large semi-detached residences, but WWII caused housing shortages and created subdivided homes, which meant the larger properties got poorer.
And then it got really complicated. Because the north holds both the east and the west, not the south, and as the core empties out and refills, Londoners move east and south but not west, which is now as expensive as the north except for the parts which are Asian, and the east is expensive in parts for its urban cool except for the Asian bits. Got that?
In other words, you’re still either a north or south person.
I hail from South London, but came to North London at 18. North, which appears to have all the advantages, is generally prettier, but London’s astonishing restaurant boom of recent years has stranded the north with hardly any good dining spots. Amenities are fewer, too, but they do have the vastness of Hampstead Heath, which unlike, say, New York’s Central Park is not overlooked by any buildings unless you count the Eye of Sauron at London Bridge.
But looking to the future, the south has more potential. Ignoring the ongoing pig’s ear of the Elephant & Castle (which is – incredibly – worse now than ever), it has Bermondsey, Borough, Bankside and plenty of other wealthy enclaves.
The ongoing tragedy for either side is that the areas that really need improving remain in a deplorable cycle of poverty, pulled back and forth by market forces. In particular the Old Kent Road has many fine buildings ruined by the short-lease shops beneath them (see above).
All arguments for north or south appreciated!