Walking through London is like walking through a canyon of sedimentary rock; you can see the different layers of cultural strata laid down over time. East London in particular, is a place flowing with culture. The beauty of Hackney is that these layers are from all over the world. Turkish, British, Jewish, Asian, Chinese, Industrial, Hippy, Rich, Poor, Grand and Scruffy all have their monuments on the pavements of the East End.
The anthropologist Marcel Mauss defined place as a “culture fossilized in time and space”. Hackney is a wonderful fossil to analyze. Its surface is littered and scarred with a thousand crystallized cultures. The decrepit Bishopsgate viaduct, that once served the largest industrial depot in London now snakes its way, not through the bags of coal and iron ore, but past Indian restaurants on Brick Lane and Hipster hangouts on Old street. Each time another society is accommodated into the body of Hackney, another layer of cultural skin is deposited on its pockmarked surface. The sheer variety of solidified cultural artifacts ensures that Hackney’s population, more so than most, is forced to interact socially.
However, there is an incoming tide that is washing this sediment away. The dam was burst when Spitalfields market was ‘redeveloped’. The dimly lit chaos of Dickensian Dens were illuminated by the neon lights of La Senza. From their encampment in the city, globalized legs have strode into East London; feet crushing fragile cultural sandcastles. The development that has sprung up around the East End represents the qualities of global consumer brands. It is repetitive, poor quality and mass produced.
It is the society that inhabits these spaces that will suffer. These tower block developments meet the ground badly. They are gated, inward looking. They separate us into identikit little flats elevated above the streets. Many of them have a Tesco local at the ground floor with flats above. There is no public space. Society cannot interact in the sterile CCTV atmosphere of an over-lit shop floor. We cannot establish our identity in environments that carry the branding of the global highstreet. And if we are unable to make our mark on the environment in which we live, if different cultures are not able to come together and line up their landmarks side by side, then the cultures of London will never integrate.
Bold Creative contributor: Oli Lowrie, local architect
Why we listen…
Re-development plans within the community can prove positive, if they are approached in the right way. Bold Creative worked on a consultation with young people to decide how to make best use out of a recreational area in their community. Local youth were involved through every stage of the project and the developers considered their input and ideas in their final re-development plans.