Sunday, May 31, 2015

London Libraries #4: Canada Water

Opened in 2011, the library at Canada Water has a similar boldness to the award-winning Peckham one. Can a library not just be a library anymore but a bold architectural statement? Anyway, the eye-catching building (though typically I walked out of the train station unable to find it until I realised it was actually directly above the station) is described by architect firm CZWG as an upside pyramid but to me seems more like the Sandcrawler from Star Wars or Noah's Ark run aground. Housed in aluminium sheets, the inside is very chilled out with a 'cultural cafe', performance area, internet points and DVDs. You may even find some books upstairs. It's part of the, ahem, regeneration of the area. The only other time I've been to Canada Water was about a decade ago to shop at the huge Decathlon store across the basin.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Tissues on the train

I don't know, she needs some money for her family; she has two children and no job. Is selling tissues on a train the answer to her prayers? Should we weep into them for sympathy? I like the idea of items to buy being placed on an empty seat next to me (though I'm always nervous to even touch them in case I get shafted with a £10 bill), but I rarely need tissues (I'm a hankerchief kind of guy). I'd like some more variety, though. Coffee, chocolate, a magazine or book, an umbrella, socks or a new jacket perhaps?

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Regeneration Game

I genuinely start to feel a little queasy when I read words like 'regeneration' and phrases like 'fresh urban thinkers' and 'cultural place-making', all of which were read in an Evening Standard article about the 'cultural quarter' planned at Nine Elms and Vauxhall. The piece was essentially an advertorial, naturally, and included phone numbers of estate agents in the body copy. I felt like weeping.

It's all part of the Bilbao effect, where a poor, industrial city was revitalised by plonking a post-modern art gallery in the middle of it; in this case it was Frank Gehry's Guggenheim, an extraordinary building which houses art unable to compete with it.

As I've mentioned previously, this model has been replicated in several dilapidated UK seaside towns including Bexhill-on-Sea, Margate and Eastbourne (with mixed results) and now parts of London too.

Traditionally, though, struggling artists would move into poor, edgy areas and rent cheap studio space. Over time, artisan bakeries and art galleries would pop up, the developers would move in, ruin any character the place had in the first place, and everyone (except the rich, who would move in) would be priced out. This has happened in the east end of London on a large scale in areas like Dalston, Shoreditch and Hoxton. What's also happening now, though, is that this formerly not-exactly-perfect-but-at-least-organic process (which might take years) is forsaken for ready-made 'artists quarters' to provide instant culture kudos and authenticity in order to make a fast buck.

Kings Cross is a recent successful regeneration story which has rebranded itself from a neglected, dodgy no-go area (though I, perversely, prefer the old days of the Scala, the drunks and the skanky prostitutes – now that was character) into an 'extraordinary neighbourhood' with bars, restaurants, apartments, offices (including the Guardian newspaper) and culture. But as a Guardian article points out (whilst failing to mention their new offices being based there), although the area is open to the public, it's all privately owned and a criticism of such projects has been that they favour business over community.

Says Naomi Colvin, Occupy activist: 'You may possibly go to some officially sanctioned kind of entertainment activity which is sponsored by X but there's no scope for people to do something of their own – to do something spontaneous.' Indeed, everything's hunky dory as long as you are working, shopping, eating, drinking or indulging in some kind of X-sponsored activity.

The so-called housing crisis (where 72,000 London homes remain empty and God knows how much empty office space there is) has meant large swathes of the capital being ruined, in particular along the Thames the so-called luxury apartments which to me look ugly as sin. These exclusive, elitist, gated communities have all the atmosphere and charm of a morgue (and indeed, largely remain empty; bought as investment). And they're all identical, with their Carluccio's, Waitrose's and water features.

A form of ethnic (or at least social) cleansing is occurring where a borough like Wandsworth admitting to displacing poor residents to Birmingham to make way for shiny new apartments for the shiny new rich. This is apparently legal. Similarly, I've watched the Heygate estate in Elephant and Castle be completely demolished to make way for new flats as part of the regeneration of the whole area with no concern for the local residents who have no way of affording the new housing.

As London becomes a rich man's circus where community is contrived and art is commerce, the character of the city is being annihilated before our eyes. Developers, big business and government expect us to be thrilled about these 'exciting new retail and office opportunities' but they're all bland and boring and don't really benefit us at all.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Diversity deficit
Modern architecture is rubbish
The Lighthouse at King's Cross

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Image of the day: dolphin love

I often feel like this blog is just a forum for me moaning. No, I mean it. It's in need of some positive energy – hence the above image. Just when I was about to lose faith in charity shops along comes this life-affirming original painting of a multi-coloured dolphin about to copulate with a multi-coloured woman. Yours for £20.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Image of the week: Octopussy

Monday, May 04, 2015

Diversity deficit

It's well known that London is rapidly becoming a millionaire's playground, with large swathes of it bought up by big business and foreign tycoons whilst the poor are priced out. This, in theory, should make it a more interesting and fun place. To be rich is to be free, independent, to do whatever you damn well like. Unfortunately, as no doubt you've noticed, the new affluent areas look identical; bland and homogeneous, devoid of character, like airports the world over.

Conversely, it follows that poor areas should be dull and depressing: after all, there's no money, no freedom, no choice. Yet poorer areas are usually far more interesting than affluent ones. This is usually to with the colourful, multi-cultural mix of people. Traditionally vibrant, poor and multi-cultural areas such as Peckham, Dalston and Brixton are all now rapidly changing but the streets still feel dynamic and full of character. The life is on the street, as it is predominately in Asia and Africa, and these parts of London buzz with the colour, sights, taste and smells of Lagos or Marrakesh (however, I'll be the first to admit that predominately white, poor areas are insufferably depressing).

But the funny thing about being rich is – it's such a leveller. It doesn't matter if they're white American, Saudi, Chinese or Russian – they're rich all the same, with the same tastes. The rich have a diversity deficit. Once you have the most expensive car, watch, house and wife, where do you go from there? Exclusivity is actually less choice by its very nature – it's the top of the pyramid. It's less choice by choice. But if you've got Poundland and Primark and a limited budget the opportunities are endless.