Sunday 25 February 2007 5.29pm
Ah, the wonders of youthful idealism. Let's get one thing clear; the only usefulness Waterloo or vast chunks of SE1 are currently serving economically and politically is as a cheap and adjacent overspill for the city and west end. Labour really don't care when there is a Lib Dem as what amounts to a permanent incumbent MP in much of it nor when the actual politically active population is so low. The Tories care even less so since it will be decades before they stand a chance. All very cynical I know, but, reality happens to be far more cynical than most people would like to believe.
Give it another 20 years or so and most of what us real people will find recognisable will be Borough High Street
and some bits of Bermondsey, Waterloo station itself and a few other enclaves and that only because so much of them are listed and even then so long as you don't cast your eye above the roof tops. If you do you will likely see a wall of glass and steel high rises that will fill the periphery from Vauxhall in the west to at least Tower Bridge road in the east and south to Walworth and Kennington Road
s. Without a Landmark like St Paul's you might well struggle to know what way you are facing. Many of the new buildings going up now will have been long replaced by newer, more profitable ones.
The market will prevail and the market wants more office space and more 'apartments' not more 'community services' and 'flats'. The only community facilities it's interested in are shops, bars, restaurants others that make money. The only flats it is interested in are the ones that it levels to make way for the apartments and its idea of community services.
Before you think I have some sort of problem with this, think again. I just can't be bothered to play at being King Canute. The thing to do is make the best out of it that you can. If you are really lucky you may end up quids in and still living here. If not you might end up living in another 'flat' Stockwell or Peckham. Ironically, the estate I live on largely housed people relocated from Peckham when it was built. Today, some 30 years later, they are the OAPs.Much of it is occupied by Students renting off those former Peckham residents who cashed in and moved elsewhere. For many of us the real disadvantages, particularly for families, of living where we do come close to balancing the advantages of moving elsewhere. Somewhere you can park a car, even with a resident permit, is one example, or somewhere that has a cheaper local supermarket with range that extends beyond those wanting to by lunch than the Tesco in Covent Garden.
Here speaks an Architect, with over 20 years of experience, and who wishes that schools of architecture stop selling the utopian, social visions that they still do. The same damned visions that gave us the Heygate estate and the much maligned Elephant and Castle shopping centre. Ironically, that's one place that currently comes as close as reality does to their dreams. It's full of services, stalls and shops that are really useful to the real people who make up the local population. It has specialist shops for stuff you'll struggle to find elsewhere. One thing that I'm certain of is that when it is 'redeveloped' it will look just like any other shopping centre anywhere in the UK and that it will offer just as little in terms of variety to local shoppers. If you want a new frock for a date you'll stand a chance. If you want a new light bulb you may as well forget it now, get on a bus and find the nearest B&Q. It'll be the exact same shops in virtually the exact same order that sells nothing that you actually need and everything that you subjectively want - a well tried and trusted formula that was defined years ago (you can guess that I spent some time designing shopping centres).
I'm sorry if this shatters your illusions of community involvement and the rest, but it is the way it will be. You, I, anyone else living here, Southwark or Lambeth councils and the Government will be as helpless to stop it as the population of the Isle of Dogs have been. It's just so much political lip service that will enable the market to reach its potential in the end. As I suggested, some of it is deliberately cynical, but most of it is purely incidental and it's part of the inevitable end game.