So where does London stand on the global map? Has it got all that is needed to retain its status and reputation or is it doomed to be gradually suffocated by tourism? Could it grow ever bigger or is it time for a new agenda?
There should be no doubt that the present urban pattern suggests that the city wants to grow ever bigger while some of its inhabitants wonder whether it could get any smaller. Has the city not, over the last fifteen years seen it all? New civic infrastructure, flashy office buildings, cutting edge modern architecture but so what? Has it gained as much as it has lost? There is no doubt that global attention is drawn to the city every time the latest bit of technology is implemented to provide for more efficient and comfortable existence, but is this where the future of London lies? Is it in competing in a race of ultra modern airports, super fast trains and mega high-rise buildings? Despite all sustainable claims and considerations, we are yet to see an agenda that sets out a plausible and realistic vision for a green and sustainable future, independent of financial markets, public cuts and private investment. The need is for a vision rather than a policy. Sometimes the best way to foresee the future, is by looking around for precedents, which could indicate a way forward. But the problem could purely be that in trying to grasp London as a whole, we may fail to spot some of the changes that have already begun to happen on a smaller scale. Despite its overwhelming size, the qualities of the city are in what is smaller, older and intimate, rather than the new, the shiny and the iconic.
Some of the recent initiatives that have been triggered by the Localism Act, could be a good indicator of what draws people to London. It is certainly fascinating to observe that the residents who could be the most affected by the new Crossrail station at Tottenham Court Road, have decided to protect their area from the ripple effect of such large scale development by defining their neighbourhood boundaries and calling it Bloomsbury Village. The paradox of this situation is, that rather than opening up and merging with the rest of Holborn and Oxford Street, they have decided to create their own identity. This voluntary hands on approach, could be really telling of what is yet to come. Rather than waiting for the government to present them with a fait accompli, they have taken fate into their own hands. As naïve as it might sound, in the absence of a clear vision that could give this great city a direction may well be beneficial. Instead of searching for ‘the solution’, individual groups and local communities could adopt this approach and focus on their own needs.
A city shaped by many villages may prove to be far more livable, personal and sustainable than attempting to fix it all at once. One needs to look no further than the Harleyford Road Community Garden in Vauxhall. Just by paying a short visit, it becomes apparent, that the potential stored in this small London community could easily become a blue print of what London could become. Only by restoring people’s faith in their local communities, could truly sustainable opportunities arise. The danger of the euphoric growth that is so evident in the city today, is that eventually, it will lead to a point of no return, the place where the remains of its heart and soul, would only be found in a museum.