No Longer Cool? Thank God!
In the Sunday Times this morning, a ‘nightlife entrepreneur’ (I guess he runs clubs) called Alex Proud releases a wail of anguish about how London is ruined and it’s cooler to be at the coast in places like Margate. I see he has a flat in Primrose Hill.
The last time I’d read almost the same article it was by pop writer Julie Birchill, who’d moved to run-down Brighton, home of the cheap-end stag party. Every now and again someone looks at their address book, notes that a few friends have moved out to start families and writes about the Smoke not being cool anymore.
I agree London’s prices are insanely high but a few brightly painted buildings don’t make Margate cool either – look at Camden. A rule of thumb; will two men walking down the street holding hands feel safe there? If not, there is no ‘cool’.
The former working class towns of the Kent coast were Brexit strongholds (quite a few people have changed their minds down there now, according to the latest YouGov poll) and are most definitely not comfortable places if you’re black, gay, or anything other than a 2.4 kid family unit – tolerance and freedom are required to create a cool town. Margate still has down-at-heel B&Bs, boarded-up shops and lousy food, but at least it’s trying to escape the poverty trap that has cursed such towns for the last fifty years.
The Times article is right, to a point; London clubs have closed, restaurants are overpriced, properties are owned as investments, but the real problem is that no major cities – I mean those above 5 million – are cool anymore.
If you want a comfortable – nay, glamorous – life in a European city, pick one of 2m or below. Oslo: 0.6m, Rekjavik; 0.1m, Dublin; 1.3m, Vienna; 1.8m. Barcelona’s population is a measly 1.6 million and it’s one of the most relaxing places I know. Only cool Berlin (certainly not a relaxing city) breaks the pattern at over 3 million – but London is now heading for 9 million.
We think differently about how we live in big cities now. ‘Cool’ is no longer a word you hear used. Students are the children of the rich. Artists are entrepreneurs. The once cool clothing shops have all gone. Soho is dead and buried. Hackney and Camden are filled with tourist tat. Selfridges is a half-empty building haunted by Chinese tourists. And who in their right mind goes to Knightsbridge?
But Paris and New York are the same. Once I loved New York for edgy theatre, crazy nightlife and street markets. Now I could go and shop in a chain or see the show I already saw in London. I’m a hardcore townie, I confess. The English countryside makes me itchy to be near concrete. I’ve tried weekending with friends but by Sunday I’m online.
What do we want from a city? I made a list of all the things I like and it’s not very cool, I’m afraid.
Lots of bookshops.
A good arts scene.
Somewhere to sit and relax.
Good pubs, music, theatre.
Decent affordable food.
So maybe ‘comfortable’ replaces ‘cool’? If so, that’s a pretty good thing in my book.