I’ve just returned from a trip to London, my first since emigrating.
The overwhelming impression I got of the physical city was one in the midst of much rebuilding. On my first day there I took a look at the skyline from the top of Primrose Hill. The horizon was littered with cranes. Ordinarily I’d think that this regeneration was at least some indication of a GOOD THING happening: London is a living, breathing entity, so a refreshment of its innards would be a necessary and beneficial development. But then I took a few journeys into town and was surprised at the number of huge holes that had sprung up in areas that had shown little change since my childhood. The electronics shops that once gave Tottenham Court Road its identity have given way to a building site, as have the shops on the east side of Berwick Street Market. Apparently the entire market is going to disappear, as is the market at Shepherd’s Bush between Goldhawk Road and Uxbridge Road.
So what are all these pointless, unnecessary elements of the fabric of London going to be replaced by?
Housing. Lots and lots of housing. And that’s great, right? There’s a massive shortage of housing for London’s essential workers, and huge communities are being driven from London’s estates to towns and cities across the country. So now they’ll have somewhere to live in the capital, allowing them to contribute to the diverse combination of ethnicities and social demographics that has made London London for so many centuries.
Ha ha ha! Of course that’s not what’s happening. The housing is being built for rich people from abroad who want to buy London property as an apparently safe investment. Usually they leave these homes empty, decimating the communities in which they exist. If no one lives there, no one will use the shops that surround them, so no one can afford to serve those areas, leaving them as de facto ghost towns.
As I chatted to friends about this and wondered what would become of the London in which I’d spent the first forty years of my life, I found this article in The Observer (there’s another by Rafael Behr in the Observer magazine that I couldn’t find online). It expands on the above in a somewhat depressing fashion.
If London carries on this way it’s going to change beyond recognition, and not in a good way. When I left it wasn’t because of a dislike of what I thought London would become, but if I still lived there I’d think even more seriously about leaving, just to find something less expensive and less homogenised. For the price of my London flat I bought a home in LA that’s twice the size with a big garden and pool – and that’s in a nice area with a good school. When LA seems like a massive bargain in comparison, that’s when you have to wonder about London’s future.
Or come to LA!