How Edgy Is Your Neighbourhood?

Film, London, Observatory

Estate agents are forever looking for the next run-down area that can be gentrified, but certain spots defy what used to be called ‘Yuppification’, particularly in London, where post-war housing estates created no-go areas of criminality.

For years I lived in Kentish Town, a slightly down-at-heel spot inhabited by council tenants, nurses, writers, artists and an older generation of Irish workers. It was always considered to be edgy but fairly safe, and everyone thought it would one day smarten up its act. After all, it was central and accessible, with good schools. But by the time I left, nothing much had changed.

Moving to King’s Cross, central London’s roughest patch, at a time when a vast package of reforms had been agreed, I watched a ‘hood famous for its junkies and prostitutes transformed into the gateway to Europe, thanks to the Eurostar terminal. On TV I saw someone complaining that the area had lost its edge and grew angry that anyone could find muggings and harassment preferable to safe clean streets.

Recently, after living for seven years with potholes in my street, the roadway got dramatically made over – but only because the Olympic torch is being carried down it.

So I know about edgy neighbourhoods. But as we’re thinking of possibly buying a bolt hole in Barcelona, in a part of the Old Town that even the police used to avoid, I’m wondering just how edgy I’m prepared to be. New York may consider itself the city that never sleeps, but here the evenings start at 10pm, children are still out way after midnight and it’s common to see people on benches still chatting as dawn rises. And although the streets of Old Town Europe may give tourists the terrors, behind the crumbling walls you often find spectacularly glamorous air-conditioned lofts.

So I’ve been photographing the night areas where I’m looking, and dealing with my own preconceptions. Bear in mind that behind the scrawled-over front door is a very stylish modern loft, and in the alleyways are fashion shops and museums. Most streets feel much safer than they look, although as one flat I saw appears to back onto an all-night skateboard hotspot, you wouldn’t get much sleep there. And very thin people did try to sell me drugs quite a lot. But then you turn a corner and come into the beautiful square below. My idea of hell is living in the suburbs – I don’t have the right mindset for neighbourhood committees, as you’ll know if you’ve read my novel ‘Psychoville’.
I’m pretty certain that your neighbourhood is not edgy if it has a Hugo Boss store.
Perhaps its better to always keep stepping beyond your safety zone.

8 comments on “How Edgy Is Your Neighbourhood?”

  1. Dan Terrell says:

    Living in the suburbs isn’t so bad, if you avoid service on the neighborhood committees and the conversation about achieving spouses and children. I like the green, the opportunity to grow things – not only on windowsills – the fresh air, the quiet. Although I don’t generally find the people that interesting, but hey that’s why there are books, record collections, some TV, good cooking, and cars.
    For my taste, the area you’ve photographed looks really interesting and a tad Hammerish, but that could be a definite drawing feature. Behind which door is the Starbucks? Just kidding, kidding.

  2. Hangar Queen says:

    About a month after buying a house in a small Appalachian town my lawnmower and car stereo were nicked by a local junkie. Not exactly something to call the feds in for but it was ironic in that we had moved there from a rough and ready big city neighbourhood where we had encountered exactly zero crime. The best part was when said junkie came back the next day and offered to cut my grass for $10. Tempermental lawnmowers not being the currency of choice for the dealers it seemed. 13 years later we still have that house but now have a small flat in the city as well. There is only so much of that Green Acres nonsense I can handle in one sitting.

  3. Wayne says:

    Not got an edge at all average age round here is 60……

  4. glasgow1975 says:

    I recently moved from the leafy gentrified West End to the less salubrious East End. (Of Glasgow that is, why is it west end = best end so often?)
    It’s cheaper here for obvious reasons, but the area is getting money thrown at it thanks to the forthcoming Commonwealth Games in 2014. I’m hoping some of it sticks 🙂

  5. Alan Morgan says:

    I’ve lived on that cliche London estate where the rozzers only came when organised into a small army (and really, really early). I now live in a little village where there is no crime, no police at all, and even the local youth pass the time of day or nod a cheery greeting*. Mind you they do chase passing cars wailing about the ‘Devil’s carriage’ and the Scots raid south for our cattle and curly kale. But that’s cultural.

    *They wear big shorts and compare bomb fins and shrapnel collections more normally, before being chased off by the local ARP warden.

  6. jan says:

    Thats interesting west end best end…. its nearly always in big cities the side AWAY from the dockland area thats the “best end”/ this happened in London in a pretty spectacular way because of the way and order in which the city was built on and developed parts of the east end have truly wonderful Georgian architecture the houses there are absolutely spectacular but the money moved west as new areas became fashionable and the better housing in the less fashionable areas did not get rediscovered and developed in a systematic way until the effects of the city financial centres deregulation, and particularly the development of Canary Wharf took place. If you look at the east and west coastal ciites of canada and the states i THINK but not sure same rules apply.

  7. Dan Terrell says:

    Perhaps, it’s not so much – or not only – east and west, but old and new, plus lower and upper. (In the case of bays/rivers it can be right and left or over on that far side.) Wherever the first businesses settled, set up their piers, storage facilities and manufacturing sites, there were the early houses and the workers homes, along with most of the necessary support businesses: the butchers, marketsplaces, drygoods, pubs/bars and Madam, or Not So Goodwife, Blanche’s “TGIF” retreat.
    Then when things became well established and the revenues were coming in, the owners and well-to-do moved out of town away from the close, noisy and awesome smelling old sections, leaving behind their original fancy homes and the government buildings. After a time the loft renters moved in and refurbished the old original buildings.

  8. Ben Aaronovitch says:

    It’s so weird when someone describes the area you grew up in as ‘edgy’.

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