diamond geezer

 Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Today's post is about the post-industrial edgelands to the west of the Olympic Park, specifically Hackney Wick and Fish Island, specifically how its buildings are being demolished, relentlessly, and rebuilt into flats, sucking away character to create another identikit district of over-priced boxes, admittedly necessary, but crushingly dull compared to the previous characterful vibe, so if you could just bear that subtext in mind throughout what follows, that'll save me having to mention it in every paragraph.

Numerous cranes loom over the streets of Hackney Wick. Six-storey scaffolding rises on the site of the former Mr Bagel bakery. The former Traveller village has long been buried. The Lord Napier pub still stands, heavily graffitied, one of the buildings being retained as heritage infill so that the future residential district isn't entirely soulless. Hung on the exterior is a banner for a 'boutique fitness studio' offering pilates, kettlebells and core conditioning. Times change. #subtext

Approximately half the old neighbourhood has already gone, destroyed in patchwork. On some street corners are once-cheap warehouses and scrappy timberyards. On others are soon-to-be not-really-affordable flats. The Old Smokehouse development has been shamelessly named after what it replaces, and offers "contemporary industrial apartments". On Rothbury Road men in overalls fix tyres in grimy garages, overlooked by a skeleton of partitioned floors which will soon devour them. Times change. #subtext

This brownbrick block, opposite the current entrance to Hackney Wick station, showcases the new bland aesthetic. Upstairs are residential units for mortgageable incomers, still with a decent view from the upper balconies until someone builds something taller opposite. Downstairs is an estate agent keen to market the area's vibrant potential, plus space for a restaurant. The proprietors of the Wick's former bacon butty 'n' builders' tea hut need not apply. Times change. #subtext

Hackney Wick station is in flux. Everything you remember being here, bar the tracks and platforms, has been stripped away. Last autumn a new subway was shoved underneath, centrally aligned, and a brand new concrete station building is being erected as we speak. Tooled tradesmen in hi-vis are busy pointing surfaces on platform 1. Expect a ground level thoroughfare with space for coffee, and connectivity to blocks of flats as yet on the drawing board. Times change. #subtext

Across the Hertford Canal on Fish Island, much the same is afoot. Some of the grid of streets retains small businesses nowhere else wants, but the remainder has metamorphosed into residential foundations. Waterfront plots have proved most susceptible, but elsewhere The Great Infill has already begun. All the Pentecostal churches have moved on, it seems. Rest assured that the Conservation Area is safe, so by no means all the artists are being ejected, but anything unprotected won't last long. Times change. #subtext

Vittoria Wharf was emptied out late last year. Its crime was simply to be located where the planning authority want to place a footbridge, so 30 angry artists have had to be evicted. Another perfectly good footbridge exists two minutes upstream, but apparently that has to be replaced by a road bridge, else how will all the new residents hail their Ubers? Contractors are already sniffing around outside, in readiness for the start of total dismantlement later this month. Times change. #subtext

The Lea Navigation is increasingly lined by apartment blocks, with more to come wherever feasible. The half of Vittoria Wharf that isn't going to become a footbridge is going to become flats, because of course it is, because no opportunity is missed. Meanwhile on the stadium side the builders have just fenced off a huge section of post-Olympic backlot to become Sweetwater, a neighbourhood of 650 new homes, which should look utterly depressingly anodyne by 2022. Times change. #subtext

Planning concessions hereabouts ensure that light industrial uses are being retained, if somewhat lighter than before. A prefab community centre has recently been thrown up in Hackney Wick as a hub for youth and yoga. But this is really all about realising the Lower Lea Valley's full residential potential, as was always intended post 2012. Developers may claim this is "an evolutionary legacy for the people of East London", but its former creative community would claim otherwise.

Times change. #subtext

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