diamond geezer

 Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The DLR will be extending shortly. Not the railway, because no extensions to the network are currently under any serious consideration. Indeed, visit the "Current Projects" page on the DLR website and all you get is the line to Stratford International that opened last summer, plus the Dagenham Dock spur that Boris mothballed four years ago. No, this extension's utterly minor, off the rails, at my local station. We're getting a new entrance.

There's been only one way into Bow Church DLR since 1987 and that's from Bow Road. A trek down narrow steps, or a ride down in the lift if it's working (which it usually is). That's fine if you live west or east of the station, but not so great from the south. A circuitous trek is required - nothing too galling but a bit annoying when the platform runs pretty much alongside Rainhill Way. And now there is access, almost.

It's been there a couple of years, off the southbound platform, this alternative "exit" leading straight into a wall. Only recently was a proper footpath laid from the corner of Rainhill Way, now marked with a DLR roundel on a stick as a beacon to guide passengers in. Except nobody's opened yet up the gap at the end - a thin blue wall still blocks the way - so anyone tempted down has to retrace their steps on an even longer diversion to reach the platform beside. Or they could stop and look at this.

This is the latest artwork on the DLR, a piece called Coming/Going. Seven metres long, it's been nailed to the edge of a temporary builders' compound on the path down to the new entrance. This montage has been put together by artist Simon Terrill as part of a community art project on the neighbouring Bow Cross estate, which is undergoing major renovation at the moment. You may remember Simon from the Balfron Project, when he egged the residents of Goldfinger's tower in Poplar into standing out on their balconies so he could take a 27-storey collective photograph of them. He tried something similarly communal here, but at ground level, aiming for more of an album than a single image. Apparently there's a large Bow Cross photograph on the Coming/Going artwork, but my eyes are so drawn by the bright yellow text that I can't quite pick it out.

You probably won't know the Bow Cross estate, even under its previous name of Crossways. Its one claim to fame is that Dizzee Rascal lived here, him and Tinchy Stryder, although you won't find a plaque or anything. Even to those of us who live round here this isolated estate is mostly off-radar and off-limits. The three 25-storey tower blocks are obvious enough, but you wouldn't want to walk underneath or through unless you had to. Two have been done up recently, reclad in off-white, and with a blazing lightshow pulsating from the roof after dark as if to say "look at us, we're reborn". But the third, Mallard Point, is still the ugly concrete sod it always was. The road from the new DLR entrance leads down and round to the bottom of the decrepit tower, and nowhere else, which is not the sort of urban cul-de-sac you ever want to find yourself in by mistake.

The rest of the estate is a revelation, in comparison. Low-rise homes in parallel terraces. Fresh flats in neat pastel blocks. Rows of cars parked up outside tiny front gardens. Access roads waiting to be unfenced. The scary concrete walkways of the past wiped clean away. A small playground to replace the bleak tarmac football pitch many of the new flats have been squished into. You can see why the housing association drafted an artist in, this could be any 21st century estate anywhere in Tower Hamlets, and an identity is sorely needed. So when the new DLR entrance finally opens, giving residents the public transport access they've long deserved, maybe a few more Bow commuters will finally realise this estate exists.

Not all of the properties here are housing association, obviously. Bow Cross West has been given the full marketing treatment from Countryside Properties, and their marketing department was in overdrive last year attempting to make the area sound far more exciting than it really is. If you live elsewhere you might have lapped this muck up, but for us local residents the blind hyperbole shines through. The "ha!"s are mine.

  • "Choosing to live at Bow Cross West is an opportunity to embrace a new beginning (ha!) and explore unique opportunities (ha!) within an historic context (ha!). You couldn’t be better placed (ha! ha!) to take advantage of the best of life in the bustle of cosmopolitan London (ha!) and yet be surrounded by ancient churches, buildings and monuments (ha!)."
  • "The area is famously known (ha!) as one of the access points (ha!) for the 2012 Olympic Stadium. The opportunities that this home location represents for experiencing the games firsthand (ha! ha! ha!) and making use of the superb facilities afterwards (ha! ha!) are not to be missed. Closer to home (ha!), Victoria Park is a popular festival venue during the summer months and for excellent and varied evenings and weekends look no further than the restaurants of Mile End (ha! ha!) and Bow Wharf or the Jongleurs comedy club at Grove Road."
  • "Being located in the centre (ha!) of the historic East End and within easy walking distance to Canary Wharf (ha! ha!) and other nearby tourist and historically significant spots (ha! ha!) Bow is fast becoming a solid area for investment and an exciting (ha!) location to make your home."
  • "Roman Road Market is... a friendly, funky place to shop (ha!) for some real bargains. Super Saturday takes place every weekend throughout the summer and features the very best (ha!) in crafts, home and garden, antiques, food, clothing, books, special events, street performances, jugglers, stilt walkers (ha!), face painting and much more (ha! ha!)! In winter, the market is smaller and still a fantastic (ha!) place for shopping."
  • "With the Docklands Light Railway just a few minutes walk away you can choose to explore the rest of London. But with so much to do so close to your home, you’ll be sure to spend your time enjoying the neighbourhood’s own attractions (ha! ha! ha!).

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