Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Bishopsgate Goods Yard development: Have your say!

I went to Shoreditch Town Hall yesterday, where Hackney Council was inviting residents to find out what local people want for the development of the disused Bishopsgate Goods Yard, a piece of land bordered by Shoreditch High street, Sclater Street and Brick Lane, so this is not about the proposed demolition of The Light or the new high rise residential development on the top of Bethnal Green Road. There was an exhibition that you can view online (first link) and a questionnaire (second link) you can fill out and send them until later in the month, so pls have a look and fill out the questionnaire (even if you don't live in the area and only come to Brick Lane from time to time, this will affect you)
There is talk of some open green space to be developed but that would mean having a large tower at the Shoreditch High Street end apparently (to maximise the space). I think they have a chance to do something interesting that will integrate with the existing character of the area, you know, affordable spaces for small businesses like cafes, bars, clubs, live venues, art galleries, that sort of thing... as well as having an open space that could be used creatively like the Elys Yard in Truman's Brewery, an urban oasis where many interesting things are staged on a regular basis.

Apparently this plot of land has been earmarked for major development for a while but I don't think the area needs more development, or at least it should be a more organic development that fits in with rather than completely redefines the area. Apart from the inevitable lengthy disruption while constructing these monstrous buildings (and there are already too many building sites around, and it's even worse in the City!), more big buildings will not add to the character of the area, and could probably help destroy the unique atmosphere around there. So far Shoreditch has resisted being completely co-opted into the encroaching city. The area around Brick Lane and Shoreditch is buzzing more or less nonstop right now, go on a weekend and it is clear that it is one of the areas people gravitate to from all over the place, it works, people are voting with their feet (go a little bit further into the old city and it is more or less dead apart from the odd tourists), new spaces are being found, the experiment that started almost ten years ago when there was virtually nothing in the area continues and is now almost mainstream, but still very potent. For instance, Redchurch Street running parallel to the bit of the Bethnal Green Road that borders the Bishopsgate Good Yard has recently become a hub for smallish new galleries, almost like Vyner Street, but more integrated into the flow of the nightlife, however you've got to wonder how this street will fare once all this new development will start appearing next door. Brick Lane itself, a street full of history and incredibly vibrant, again, it is vulnerable, and can't take much more, it's already bursting at the seams, the area is already super intense in its clashes of culture, art, tradition, history, etc.

So I think Hackney Council has a real chance to do something that will reflect on the area and also show off Hackney as a borough, as this will be its entry point when you come from the city. There's talk of a huge residential development but, again, I'm not convinced this is the right site for it, it's situated next to some major roads and rail lines and the air is pretty bad around there, so it will be noisy and polluted already. Plus there is nightlife and disruptive partying going on, especially on the weekend. I never understand how a lot of these developments are situated right next to such busy and noisy traffic routes, even with good insulation you still hear it and you must get sick of hearing the trains and traffic nonstop. So I'm not sure this is a good site to actually live.

However it would be a good site for a new biggish live venue, something Shoreditch doesn't really have yet but could definitely benefit from, there are many small to midsize venues around the area and it has become a major live music (and clubbing of course) destination, not as established as Camden, but full of quirky creative venues, something good (and often free) happens almost every day, but especially on the weekends. So while the Astoria and the Electric Ballroom in Camden are supposed to close at some point in the future, and the hub of clubs near Kings Cross already closed down, maybe this would be a good site to build something new for the clubbers, music lovers and artists who have defined the streetlife around there. Or integrate it into the railway arches that are apparently still around the site and could be used to build new clubs. There is already a lively infrastructure of venues in the area, that is being supported by a weekly influx of young people from all over the world, why not make it stronger and do something bold and amazing (rather than a boring aggressive residential high rise that most people don't want to see there and that will only make some people some money in the short term...) . The energy and the people are already there! All you need to do is give them more spaces to hang out! And the bankers go there too now! The Big Chill bar regularly hosts a very strange mix of after work city boys and scruffy local hipsters, and anyone else who wants to hang out, it's a very democratic, very intense urban mix and works!

I'm really fond of the area despite all its faults and faultlines, yes, it doesn't all add up, yes, it's too intense, yes, it's not entirely real and yes, it's getting too expensive for the people who started it all, but as i said, hang out there on a Sunday and you'll understand there is something special here, something a lot of other places can only dream of, and it's more than just gentrification. The days of the exclusive "Shoreditch Twat" are kinda over now, when there were just a few places, and the place was under developed, it's not so secret anymore, but still it's livelier than ever, and the once new venues now have an amazing history behind them already and have become real institutions that keep evolving. Don't make it stop, and you can't stop it anyway. Think about it, Hackney Council! It's your chance to do something amazing and thanks for listening!

p.s. Years ago residents in Berlin-Kreuzberg successfully campaigned to turn the former Goerlitzer railway station and depot area into a public park and this is what it looks like now...

p.p.s as i said pls fill out the questionnaire, it's very nice of them to ask ;-)

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