I went for a walk around the block yesterday. Quite a big block, from my home in Bow up one side of the A12 and down the other. And I was struck by quite how much new stuff there was. Things that weren't there when I moved to London eight years ago, but are now an integral part of the landscape. So I took some photos of some of the new stuff, which you can see a bit bigger by clicking on them, and I've written down a few thoughts. London's a-changing, some parts faster than others.
The Bow Flyover used to be the one of the tallest things around here, but not any more. A whopping great apartment block's been erected alongside, one of a chain along the Olympic borderline into Stratford, and still they come. This tower was only due to have nine storeys when the original planning permission went through, but greed and speculation raised it higher, and now there's a semi-let village hanging in the sky. In its shadow lurks a drive-in greasemonger selling stodge and fries, not an option eight years ago, but more than popular today. Rumour has it the local Baptist church may soon be reinstated alongside, no doubt slightly richer than before. Round here red and silver has replaced brown and grey, and there's no going back. [map]
Grove Hall Park's my local greenspace. It's nothing special, but its handful of grassy acres are more than pleasant all the same. The council's poured a load of money into the park over the last couple of years, sprucing up the memorial garden and adding a decent (and well-used) playground. There are tumbly slides for toddlers, geometric frames for kids and twin hoops for teens - a big improvement on the lacklustre selection on site before. Even the brightly painted garden wall has so far resisted the attention of the E3 spray-tagger posse. With fresh tower blocks poking up above a leafy canopy, this is the photo that most looks like it's an illustration from a town planner's brochure. I still can't quite believe it's real. [map]
Where did that shop come from? I'm sure last time I walked up Fairfield Road this was just an industrial unit awaiting rebirth, and suddenly it's a brand new convenience store. The people of BowQuarter used to cope perfectly well with their own internal mini-market, but now there's another huge estate on the opposite side of the road it seems an additional shop can be supported. Its shelves are piled not-quite-high with lowest common denominator comestibles, with alcohol and fizzy drinks ranking higher in importance on the boards outside than fruit, bread and vegetables. Don't expect organic splendour, this is still the East End after all, and a packet of Haribo and some Lucozade will do quite well enough for many. [map]
Here's change in action. A nine-storey "contemporary development" is in the ascendant, but for now all you can do is pop into the sales centre and look at some pictures. Disappointingly the sales centre is based in a proper brick house (once the offices of HF Bates recycling yard), now hidden away behind enormous advertising banners, and a building with far more character than the pile of shiny boxes that'll replace it. Even worse, some marketing guru has labelled the entire project "Mojo", and has written some of the most complete tosh I've ever read to try and promote it. "Mojo is right where you want to be", apparently. Alas this end of Bow isn't "vibrant, full of contrasts and distinctly cosmopolitan", but is instead rapidly losing its soul to heritage-free building sites such as this. [map]
Not all redevelopment is bad. The area east of Parnell Road used to be covered by Soviet-style council blocks, and then the demolition teams moved in, and then the showhomes went up, and now there's an entire new community on site. At the heart is a long oblong green, with two giant poppies spouting in the centre, beneath which two- and four-legged friends hang out. Medium-sized flats surround the perimeter, each named after a god or goddess, and each with their respective cartoon image beaming down from the front wall. It's not quite so delightful beyond, where a solid ¼-mile wall of apartments flanks a roaring dual carriageway, dotted with tiny east-facing windows to keep the traffic noise at bay. The estate's brand new road network is considerably quieter. E3's local map is never static. [map]
[And tomorrow, back down the other side of the A12]