Thursday, May 03, 2012

The new issue of Dazed & Confused has two interesting articles that, in my own mind at least, are connected with the elections for a new mayor which took place today. The first is the cover article, "Is East London Dead? The Future of Creativity in the Capital". Leaving aside the issue that other parts of the capital actually have creativity going on too, the article is succinct in highlighting how the gentrification and sprucing up of East London in time for the Olympics is slowly eroding the individuality and creative potential of the area. As the article acknowledges, the closing of the Foundry on Old Street – formerly the street’s most interesting and unique venues – along with The George Tavern on Commercial Road (for those who haven't been, an ancient (since 1692) East London pub with an extraordinary back-room that contained a strangely compelling lit-up dancefloor) - have turned out to be just one of many victims of the creeping corporatisation of the area. In contrast, the shopping complex Boxpark Shoreditch – styled as a ‘pop-up’, even though it's set to remain for a long time - with its motley assortment of big brands, feels like an attempt to capture the spirit of the area which rings slightly hollow and corporate (though some leeway has been given for individual businesses, such as booksellers Phaidon). Tragically, the Foundry still remains closed years later, with bureaucracy stopping the planned 'art hotel' from happening (not that the 'art hotel' would have been preferable to the Foundry, but it would have been better than nothing). Speaking of 'pop-ups', formerly secure independent shops such as the Duke of Uke have been forced out of their permanent premises and forced to operate elsewhere as a 'pop-up', thus living in a kind of limbo. I’ve wrote about this before, of course.

The second article that caught my eye was Jon Savage’s 'Interzone', which captures snaps of what West London was like 35 years ago. The photos are currently on display at Maggs booksellers (hence the YouTube clip above). It’s astonishing, looking at some of the pictures, to think that areas adjacent to Notting Hill were essentially urban wasteland back then, with ample opportunities to squat and live an alternative existence in communes on the dole (which is precisely what the likes of Hawkwind, Crass, The Raincoats et al did). The contrast to today is striking: as rent prices go through the roof, many of the youth graduating today are going to find that, as Savage admits himself in the article, they will only be able to live anywhere near the centre of London if they have a fair whack of money behind them (so leaving the poor exposed). Living in the area around 'Silicon Roundabout', as it’s being dubbed, I know this only too well. Their situation is going to be further exacerbated by the lack of jobs as the UK enters a double-dip recession, coupled with the current Government's dismantling of the welfare system. It was the existence of the latter, of course, which allowed previous generations to experiment, leading to the kind of 'bohemian' (a word I’ve always hated, but it does apply here) lifestyle espoused by the artists mentioned above. The previous recessions may have been bad, but at least squatting opportunities abounded, as well as a thriving dole culture, particularly in Hackney (where I grew up) and in the Notting Hill area during the time that Savage took those pictures. Those ‘alternative zones’ will become less and less now. And if that’s not bad enough, the young will find that property prices are through the roof where once it was possible to buy a house in a London on a modest wage (in only certain other parts of the country are house prices still affordable). Of course, if you walk around areas such as Hackney Wick, it’s easy to think there are still cheap, artist-friendly areas, with its profusion of galleries. But, being so close to the Olympics, areas like Hackney Wick will change too, as has clearly happened with Dalston, where I went school, and which was once a decidedly untrendy area. These areas will not go down in price once the Olympics end.

Something has to be done about the fact that London’s housing market has turned into a giant bubble, with unscrupulous landlords allowed free reign to drastically increase rents at their whim. It’s the reason why I voted for the Green Party’s Jenny Jones today, together with the fact that she has clearly grasped that the Cycle Hire Scheme needs to be extended North and South, rather than presently only serving suits in the Square Mile and at Canary Wharf. She almost certainly won't get the job, of course; nonetheless, from the people working at the cafe this morning to the sentiment among most people in the cycle cafes, I get the feeling that plenty of people did the same as me, rather than opting to vote for either Johnson or Livingstone.

Thanks to Dummy, which is where I discovered the YouTube clip above

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