13 August 2014


Paddington Basin
I am drawn to London's waterways - some of the best running in town, or traffic-free walking. A builder was standing by the basin where I took the photo. We exchanged views on how attractive the area had become, compared with the state it had been in not many years ago. "That used to be a BT depot", he said indicating a new block of flats on the corner of Praed Street.
But I have ambiguous feelings. The developer is making huge efforts to landscape the area (the green in the photo is newly-laid turf, and "an exciting new lifting bridge" (I quote from memory) is being installed there: the adjectives that spring to my mind are "unnecessary" and perhaps "spurious". Not something that I could possibly get excited about, for sure. And who for? Well, surely for the delectation of the people like me who pass through on their way to jobs that pay nothing like enough to be able to afford one of the surrounding flats. They have been bought, for the most part, by investors from overseas who will never even visit them let alone live there. While London has a housing crisis.
My builder-interlocutor said he'd been working on a site in Old Street, just a hole in the ground at the time but 95 per cent of the development had been sold off-plan. To Chinese, he said, though I suspect his evidence was anecdotal.
It struck me that I had not taken the route through Merchants' Square (as it is known) for several weeks, since quitting RIBA. And I recall the struggle I often felt to make my way from Paddington to Portland Place, and more often the other direction, my legs reluctant to take me to my destination, feeling as if they were struggling through treacle (especially when the wind was in my face, sometimes creating whitecaps on the water in the basin).

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