Friday, 17 April 2009

If the tide goes out...

It's unclear what the financial crisis will do to London's wealth in the medium to long term - and what this will do to various parts of the capital - but from where I'm currently sitting it's clear that what can go up the Monopoly board can also go down.

London's prosperity has always ebbed and flowed across the city gentrifying and impoverishing districts as it goes. We live in the Hoxton end of Islington, near the canal in a terraced house. Its history tells you how contingent and fleeting prosperity can be.

It was built in the 1840s for the 'better sort' of City worker, senior clerks and such like, the Mr Pooters of that world. But just twenty to thirty years later the establishment of the railway and trolley bus services linking North London to the City and the consequent exodus of the clerks to leafy Holloway (imagine it) led to a steep decline. (Fittingly Holloway is Mr Pooter's home at the time Diary of a Nobody was published in 1888-9.)

By the time of the 1901 census 21 people lived in our small three bedroom house. This poverty persisted into the post-war era and a large area adjacent to us was condemned as irremediably unsanitary, demolished and replaced with the Packington Estate in the 1970s. 

Just ten years ago a couple of houses in our now tidy little terrace were inhabited by squatters. Well, it's mostly lawyers now, which even quite recently would have surprised some. I remember Alan Watkins in the 1990s describing Islington as being like Brazil: the place of tomorrow - and it always will be. (One day back then I spotted both Alan Watkins and Mad Franky Fraser in the local M&S - that's Islington for you).

By the way, in the early 90s - when I first moved permanently to London - I was told by an estate agent that it was no good looking for somewhere to live in Clerkenwell as it wasn't a residential area. I ended up in the Barbican, which some would describe similarly.

I also remember during the last recession how people had laughed at yuppies (remember them?) who had bought in Clapham and been beached there. After all, who could imagine Clapham ever becoming posh?

Wonder what's in store for us in the teen years of the 21st century? Is Hackney really the new Islington? Or is Islington destined to regress to old Islington?

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