London Blog

Destroy Old Street Tube station to save London!

Before I go any further I must be clear that I am actually advocating the eradication of Old Street tube station. I am not simply luring you in with a catchy headline only to say “of course I’m only joking!”. I’m not.

London is in trouble. The all-conquering march of house price inflation is pushing the creative classes out of the centre, even those who rent – which is most of them.

Why does this matter? Well there are two main reasons. Firstly, the creative classes tend to sprinkle their cool fairy dust onto areas of inner city decay which boosts London’s international brand tremendously. Young people might visit London for Harrods and Buckingham Palace, but they stay for edgy urban living.

Secondly, and more importantly, losing our inner city cool kids will knock London off-balance. London’s big property consultancies attribute London’s global appeal to the fact that it is equally great for business, pleasure and education – a “triple threat” if you will. The danger is that the city will become a one-trick pony, attractive for those engaged in financial services seeking generic global consumer brands, but not much else. An unbalanced city will never be a great one.

Before I reveal why destroying Old Street Station will reverse this trend we must open out human geography text books to page 17. This chapter tells us there’s nothing new about what is happening in London. More affluent people start by living either in the absolute centre where they can socialise locally or far from it where there is more space. The space in between becomes home to the less affluent who require a densely populated environment to sell their wares.

As transport improves, the definition of “socialising locally” becomes wider and wider so the better-off people move into the middle-ground seeking more space and the less affluent are given their marching orders by market forces. So the less affluent – a group which includes the creative fairy dust sprinklers – get pushed further out and re-establish themselves elsewhere. A current example in London is people who would previously have lived in Shoreditch and are currently relocating to Walthamstow and Peckham.

So what’s the problem? They have access to the same improved transport as everyone else so they can just keep moving out? Well no. There is, surely, a limit to how far the inner city urban cool can live from the actual centre, even if they have convenient commutes? If the centre becomes homogeneously generic, with Waitrose’s, Waterstones’s and Starbucks’s equally spread across its surface, the fiery core of Planet London will surely start to cool.

And this is why we must destroy Old Street Tube station. Indeed, we also need to destroy Dalston Junction, Haggerston, Hoxton and Shoreditch High Street on the overground line. The reason is simple: for a less affluent inner city cohort of cool kids to flourish they need homes in an area close to the centre (as-the-crow-flies) which is in a transport blind-spot. Shoreditch was just that. It was close enough to the city to be of interest to the “baby bankers” but too cut-off to be subject to full brunt of global market forces. It was perfect – it represented everything desirable about edgy inner city living but was (temporally) insulated from being absorbed into geographical mediocrity. Plugging these areas into the spider’s web of mass transit via the East London Line and then the Overground Network opened them up to the rest of us and killed the area. It was a bit like lifting a rock and seeing all the ants, earwigs and beetles flee from the sunlight.

Now our old friend gentrification needs two things to flourish – market forces operating over scarce land and transportation improvements. The creative classes were forced out of the centre just as much because of our (we the people of London) insistence on leaving no part of the city in a transport blind spot as much as market forces themselves.

To conclude, my point is very simple – if we want to maintain a cohort of inner-city creatives – which we should – we must strategically neglect transport infrastructure. As a final thought, one could almost argue that the cool kids are being pushed out and London is suffering not because of too little government intervention but because of too much (I’ll get my hat).

The creative classes are being forced out of the centre just as much because of our insistence on leaving no part of the city in a transport blind spot as much as market forces themselves.

June 4, 2014 rentonomy London Living