London is slowly losing its character as history is expunged and communities erased

Photo by Jamie Street via Unsplash

I met my daughter for lunch today. She has a temp job near where I spent three years working in a bookshop back in the 1980s. This edge of Soho is an area I knew well at one time and still enjoy walking round. Today I was early to meet my daughter so I took a walk round behind Shaftesbury Avenue through the small park and to the church that stands at the end of Denmark Street.

There are remnants here of old industrial units and even some council properties but there has also been a lot swept away. On the main roads here, especially, the bookshops have gone and Soho itself is threatened, as is Denmark Street’s relationship with music.

This is nothing more than the destruction of history. It is a way to create the ever-new and to turn minds and lives towards only the next thing. It is about destroying any sense of community and about the primacy of the individual. If all parts of London are the same, there is no sense of belonging or of shared experience.

London is becoming a city where Londoners no longer live. It is a city for the wealthy and temporary. People move to London to earn for a while and then, unless vastly wealthy, try to escape when it is time for family.

My daughter is a student. On top of ridiculous tuition fees, she also faces the impractical cost of rental accommodation. With university lodgings outsourced to private enterprise as well, there is no longer a sense that being a student is valuable for the nation. This forces most students to look to courses that will lead to work that provides high salaries. The professional jobs necessary to pay back student loans and to live in private accommodation. The end result is that liberal arts courses suffer, obviously. So the nation loses thinkers and the education system is more and more geared to producing graduates focused solely on making money and promulgating the economic system.

The tearing down and making bland of city districts is part of this, too. London’s particular charm was always based heavily on the side-by-side nature of different lives. Soho epitomised so much of this and now, like almost every other district of character, Soho is becoming characterless. Chain stores and chain restaurants and chain cafés and, worst of all, new blocks of expensive apartments aimed at high earners.

These apartment blocks are simply vertical gated communities. The vast inequality between the earnings required to live in them and the earnings of those working in the retail outlets and service functions adjacent to the barracks of the rich imposes barriers both visible and invisible.

I’m not a Londoner but I first came to London in the mid 1980s and it was possible to work in a bookshop — which I did — and rent somewhere within London itself — which I did — and have enough left over to eat and drink and socialise and make a life. The very attraction of London was this possibility of being able to live in the great city and experience its myriad thrills and possibilities without having to earn silly money. This is no longer the experience of young people living in London today.

This fact alone spells disaster for London.