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The old lawless, houseproud London has been replaced by faceless businesses and polyglot temporary residents – let’s not allow nostalgia to cloud the issue, though.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.