Nostalgia corner: Zola, bitumen, Paolozzi and the great ‘is London shit?’ debate

Because of a frantic start to 2015, I’ve neglected Great Wen recently. Hopefully, I’ll find something to stick up soon but in the meantime here are a few interesting bits and bobs.

First, here’s me, writing for the Canal & River Trust, about the experience of taking a narrowboat into drydock, where you whack it with mallets, coat it in tar and get pleasingly sozzled with strange Irishmen.

Second, I really enjoyed this piece by Callum West on the great Chelsea team of the 1990s, and the extraordinary revival of fortunes that preceded the salad days of Roman Abramovich. This isn’t the side I grew up with, or the one that won the most trophies, but it’s the one that gave me the greatest pleasure to watch.

Finally, the great London debate – is it turning shit or isn’t it? – is gathering pace. The constant stream of negative stories, the latest being Eva Wiseman’s pretty dismal contribution at the weekend, has finally been met by counter-argument in Brockley Central.  Is Nick’s point fatally wounded by the use of Giles Coren as a defense witness? Or is he simply missing the point, which is that the death of fun by over-development in central London is a prevailing trend that is already starting to infect areas far from the West End, and we sit and sneer at those uncomfortable at the increasing inequality, inaccessibility, unaffordability and general dreary Dubainess of it all at our peril? Both, probably.

Professional contrarians like Coren will get in bed with anyone if it gets them attention, but I’m not sure many other Londoners should be siding with the developers and speculators.

By illustration, the latest landmark to get the chop are the great Paolozzi murals at Tottenham Court Road. Still, that’s the price of progress! Yay to cultural vandalism!

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2 responses to “Nostalgia corner: Zola, bitumen, Paolozzi and the great ‘is London shit?’ debate

  1. Just to be clear about my argument, I was not defending every bit of glass and steel that gets flung up in London – my argument is this:

    1. What was lost was not always as wonderful as the misty-eyed would have us believe
    2. Soho’s decline as a fun part of town is nothing new, it’s been going on for decades
    3. London’s a dynamic system, driven by its people, not developers. If the squares kick the youngsters out, they’ll find somewhere else to party. There’s far more to do and many more places to go than when I was a teenager in the 90s.

    And I rarely read Giles Coren, but I’d take him over Eva Wiseman any day.

  2. Hi Nick

    I didn’t really have time to respond to your article in full last week so thanks for the comment. I’m not entirely in disagreement but one reason I disliked Wiseman’s piece was it was lacking any context – and that context is absolute crucial when talking about London’s current direction.

    Far from being the concern of misty-eyed nostalgists and squares, some of the best writing on this has been in places like Vice.

    Firstly, Soho is important because it is central and central is accessible. Having great things happening in Dalston or Brockley is all well good, but central London should have a heart. There are now no music venues in Soho of any note – that’s a disaster. Sure, there are venues out east but it’s deathly for Soho to be heading this way.

    Secondly, it reflects the growing expense and inequality of London, which is something that everybody – especially the young – should be aware of. The fact people are being pushed into the suburbs now have to travel even further to find (expensive) things of interest is not good.

    Thirdly, what’s happening in Soho is also happening all over London – in Battersea, Vauxhall. Shoreditch, Earls Court, Hackney, Islington, Brixton and London Bridge. London is slowly turning into the City, from east to west, north to south. I do not believe that developers deliberately set out to create soulless glass monstrosities, but they are operating on such a scale and with such a limited architectural palate that homogeneity is the only result. Nothing interesting can be done in these spaces, and the streets are all controlled by private developers with no interest in creating genuine energy. This is a disaster for everybody other than property speculators.

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