The City Of The Krays Is No More



The London of the Kray twins has pretty much gone now. I was reminded of this while watching Peter Medak’s excellent film again last night.

It’s official; in terms of property, London is the most expensive city in the world. (Not for the cost of living – that’s Tokyo.)

The problem is that it’s pulling away from the rest of the country at lightning speed. And the cost of living is rising sharply – cinema and a bowl of noodles for three is around £100, theatre tickets are hitting £80, a beer is close to £5.

And all around me in King’s Cross, this is what I see. The skyline bristles with cranes, dipping and turning all day long, yellow-jacketed workmen swarming like beetles over steel frameworks.

A new city is rising from the old one. Until recently a film partly set in the 1930s like ‘The Krays’ could be shot in the East End of London without having to change a thing. Now there’s barely anything left of that world at all. Surrounding me are rows of new apartment buildings, coated not in red London brick or bricks made from the city’s distinctive yellow clay, but clad in rippled steel plates. They look like corrugated iron nissen huts, constructed by architects with no memory of what that look implies – war and deprivation.

It’s hard to escape the sense that we are creating future slums, or at the very least a housing bubble that will burst like that of Spain. Another question arises – just how many people can London accommodate? The city’s new residents get travel and housing upgrades, so the infrastructure is fast-tracked while in the rest of the country it sinks into decline. The two-tier system is self-perpetuating; more people are attracted as the city improves itself.

The Tories are determined to support those who can afford it, so the new Google HQ has started to appear despite no plans having been submitted to residents, and untaxed companies fill the streets with plasticky new office blocks. Would things be any different under Labour? Given the weak opposition team we currently have, probably not.

After rewatching ‘The Krays’ I found its documentaries on gangsters and the London police tucked in the extras, and these proved a refreshing reminder of the Bad Old London, of corrupt coppers on the take and witnesses too frightened to give evidence in court. Over thirty people saw the shooting in the Blind Beggar pub, and not one would testify.

The old lawless, houseproud London has been replaced by faceless businesses and polyglot temporary residents – let’s not allow nostalgia to cloud the issue, though. What’s important is whether the quality of life has improved, even at the expense of character.

10 comments on “The City Of The Krays Is No More”

  1. Ken Murray says:

    I’m saddened to say this appears to be a global phenomenon. In fact your description could be that of Auckland which continues to grow and prosper while the rest of the country is in decline (Christchurch being the exception). The situation isn’t helped when the Prime Minister makes smug statements to his pals at a recent business meeting in Auckland like; “Wellington is dying and we have no idea what to do about it?”. With as you say such weak opposition, the ‘haves’ are in the ascendancy. There’s not even any attempt at pretense anymore, just an all persuasive air of entitlement. No surprise that the there are record numbers of kiwis leaving for Australia every month.

  2. keith page says:

    I’m sorry to hear that.I visited NZ many years ago and liked it a lot.The comments about London are very true; it’s all very well for those of us with properties in the capital [ which we couldn’t possibly afford to buy or even rent now]. The Current Mary Portas tv series about the high street shows it’s not difficult to promote business in even shabby areas of London but quite a different matter in a town like Margate.

  3. jan says:

    This is weird Chris i was going to e mail u about this very subject. I was in London for an X colleagues leaving bash a couple of weeks ago and on the way home walked along the South Bank from Tower Bridge to London bridge tube. Walking right along the river there near the town hall the headlamp and beyond. God its changed – it was like being in Vancouver or Toronto or any glass and steel new development anywhere. And perhaps the biggest shock was looking up across the Thames into the City just incredible but it was beautiful though i even liked the Shard. Just fabulous. perhaps its someonelses London now. The place i knew and loved is taking its placed in the past and this is some other new city don’t stop it being great though

  4. Helen Martin says:

    First time I’ve ever seen London compared to Vancouver! We have the same cry: masses of towers being built on every square inch of empty or semi empty ground.

  5. snowy says:

    There is a proper name for this, that I can’t quite place, the nearest is possibly Ouroboros. A sort of perpetual decay and regrowth.

    A new area is settled by the wealthy, and over time it declines, the rich attract traders and traders bring industry, workshops, laundries and so on. The area becomes noisy, smelly and unpleasant.

    So the rich leave for greener pastures, classically they moved out from the centre, leaving the poor to eventually colonise the old buildings. The decay continues until the buildings collapse or are destroyed in the cause of public health.

    Suddenly large areas of land become free and as there is more profit in building big/posh homes. The area get recolonised by the rich, this again attracts the merchant class and the poor get pushed out.

    But it normaly happens at a glacial pace, and goes unnoticed.

  6. Steve says:

    I suppose the question to be asked is, “HAS the quality of life improved?”

  7. Ken Murray says:

    As a little amendment to my above post I should mention that this week the current NZ government announced a deal with Skycity casino group in Auckland. The deal was for SkyCity to build a $450 million desperately needed (their words) convention centre in Auckland. However in order to bankroll the construction SkyCity wanted law changes to allow an extra 250 poker machines in their casino. Even though NZ has a really serious issue with problem gambling (recently an Auckland couple left their kids for about 5hrs in the casino’s underground carpark so they could gamble) Skycity got it’s wish. Consequently the opposition parties decried this and stated they would make changes if elected. The result? The government then revealed that the deal also included a clause that; should any future government change any gambling laws or taxes that disadvantaged Skycity in the NEXT 35 YEARS, the taxpayers would have to compensate them up to the full cost of $450 million! But then we shouldn’t be surprised, this government also changed our labour laws to suit Warner Brothers so they would make the Hobbit here. Be afraid because our PM (John Key ex-currency trader at Goldman Sachs) and David Cameron are very good friends…

  8. pheeny says:

    Given the somewhat dubious nature of various multinationals’ business transactions, the poor protection for whistleblowers, and the “sweetheart deals” by the Revenue it would appear that not much has changed – London is just attracting a better class of criminal is all.

  9. J Griffin says:

    This I read on the day that lockout deals in healthcare were leaked, that Cameron is sitting on after agreeing them with Obama. US firms at the heart of our health (and probably education) services IN PERPETUITY with monstrous compensation clauses.
    It is not just two lands now, one the SE bubble, the other the rest of us, but it’s also a new feudalism. Everything we own or earn is tithed to some duke, prince, company in the Virgin Isles, Chinese investment group or anyone except the ordinary people (peasants) of this country. Like with PFI these people are legally guaranteed a chunk of real estate and £££ forever.
    I have worked within the Labour Party – forget it. Same brush. UKIP currently benefits, but will die unless Farage builds a neofascist party.
    When there is a wall on the inner edge of the M25 will you send us missives from within, Mr F, or will you have decamped to Barcelona or Edinburgh or anywhere semi-sane?

  10. Helen Martin says:

    We’ve had our health system eroded over the last few years and while I understand the stress put on it by increased health problems I see that we will have to mount stiff resistance to any further pandering to American independent clinics. We thought the English system was so well entrenched that no one could seriously damage it.

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