News (and stuff) from London E3

Saturday 11 December 2010

Cycle Superhighway 2

CS2CS2 isn't officially due to be operational until next Summer, but the latest of Boris's bank-sponsored cycle lanes is already making an appearance. A blue stripe has been daubed along parts of Bow Road and Mile End Road over the last week or two, and bikes are already speeding their way along. Sounds great? I'm not convinced.

The road from Aldgate to Bow ought to be perfect for the addition of a dedicated cycle lane. It's relatively straight and there's plenty of room - the road's wide enough to have supported both trams and traffic back in the early 20th century. Indeed there's been a cycle lane along the road for several years, it's just wasn't as wide as Cycle Superhighways are supposed to be. The old lane was less than a metre wide, which isn't entirely conducive to feelings of safety. The new lane's the requisite metre and a half, which is much better. But you still wouldn't catch me dead using it, for fear you'd catch me dead.

Problem 1) It's still just a cycle lane. It's not segregated from the rest of the traffic at all. No thanks, not for me.

Problem 2) Bow Road is wide enough for a narrow cycle lane and two lanes of traffic. But it's not wide enough for a wide cycle lane and two lanes of traffic. All that's happened so far is that the new blue stripe has encroached on the inside lane and shrunk it, meaning it's no longer wide enough for a lorry, bus or coach. Traffic is now forced to trespass on the Cycle Superhighway because left-hand wheels have to go somewhere. As things stand, CS2 is much more likely to be full of traffic than its narrow predecessor.

Problem 3) OK, there are probably plans to repaint the existing white lines to equalise the two non-bike lanes. But I fear this would simply shrink both lanes to impractical widths too narrow for buses and broad-chassis traffic. It's therefore possible that Bow Road will, in places, be restricted to a souped-up bike lane and one lane of traffic, rather than the current two. Great for cyclists, but expect snarled-up jams of cars and lorries as the capacity of the road suddenly shrinks. We'll see.

Problem 4) As a cyclist, the one thing you really don't want to end up underneath is a bendy bus. Along Bow Road we have lots of those trundling along route 25. More importantly we have lots of enormous bus stops, increased in size six years ago to be long enough to fit two-and-a-half bendy buses. Our bus stops are a massive 45 metres long, creating corresponding 45m gaps in the blue striped Cycle Superhighway. These huge bus stops won't be required next summer when the 25 is due to revert to double decker operation. But I bet nobody at TfL thinks to shrink Bow Road's bus stops down to normal size after the bendies go, and the unnecessarily large gaps in CS2 will remain.

Problem 5) Bus stops aren't the only street features creating gaps in the Cycle Superhighway. We have a ridiculous number of pedestrian crossings along Bow Road, so the stripe regularly breaks for those. And for road junctions. And for laybys. Indeed, the newly laid Cycle Superhighway is split into at least ten separate chunks, and that's over a stretch less than a mile long. The blue lane stops starts stops starts stops starts, which ain't great. I hope there's more blue paint on its way, to link things together, otherwise this intermittent stripe is a bit rubbish.

Problem 6) TfL posted me a leaflet three months ago which promised "From Autumn 2010 a section on our webpage will be showing further details of what will be implemented, and where. We will also show details of the timing of any works which may affect local residents and businesses." It isn't there. Work has started on CS2, and nobody's telling us anything. That new layby beside St Clements Hospital, that should have been online somewhere, but it's finished already and not a mutter. Much public information was promised, but none's been delivered.

Problem 7) The Cycle Superhighway's blatantly not yet finished. I'd hope that many of the problems I've mentioned above will be sorted out before the official opening next summer. And yet someone's already been along and written "CS2" on the road at regular intervals, as if to give the fledgling Cycle Superhighway some unwarranted legitimacy. Bad thing. If it's not yet ready, don't tempt cyclists onto it.

Problem 1 again) Even when it's finished, it'll still be nothing but a souped-up cycle lane. It won't be segregated from the rest of the traffic at all, it won't be safe. No thanks, not for me.

Friday 10 December 2010

Olympic update

London 2012  Olympic update
  Can we check your car please?

One of the interesting side-effects of living on the edge of Stratford is that the Olympic Delivery Authority sometimes send you letters. Dear Householder, they say, and then let you know about something 2012-related they plan to do on your doorstep. It'll be something that's bound to happen whatever you think, but they need to tell you about it because they have to tick the box marked "public consultation" .

Our latest local planning application is for a Vehicle Screening Area to be used during the Olympic Games in 2012. Organisers don't want any spectators turning up by car, but lots of vehicles still need to enter the park to make the Games work. Handymen to keep the place ticking over, deliveries of McDonalds burgers, visiting dignitaries in luxury coaches, that sort of thing. And it's clearly essential that none of these vehicles get inside the perimeter with a cargo of high explosive on board - hence the need for vehicle screening areas dotted around the edge of the park. We're getting one of these in Tower Hamlets. Squashed between the A12 and the River Lea, north of the mainline railway and south of Fish Island. Nowhere lovely, nowhere that'll be greatly missed. But planners still have to ask whether anybody minds, because that's the law.

You might expect that a planning application like this would be online. Well, if it is, I can't find it. I can't find it on the official ODA Planning Register, because that's an unfriendly mess with a godawful mapping interface. I can't find it on the London 2012 website's Planning Consultations page, because nobody's thought to include it there. And I can't find it on the webpage where information's held about "living near the Olympic Park". Admittedly there is a hotline telephone number to ring, but nobody's going to phone that on the off chance that there just might be plans for a Vehicle Screening Area round the corner. If I hadn't had the letter through my door, I'd never have known.

So, with zero information available online, I went along to yesterday's drop-in session at my local library. One venue, one day only - one chance to find out. There were no posters in the building, no announcements - nothing signposted. If I hadn't known the two folk in the corner were Olympic-related I'd have walked straight by. But yes, they had the plans for the screening zone out on a table and were only too happy to talk.

The entire takeover of the railway sidings and surrounding plant will be temporary, and the area will be returned to normal after the Games. There are two options, depending on whether the landowner of the northern half signs up or not. It'll be back of house vehicles parking up here, not spectators. A newly remodelled road junction will be created at the Old Ford turnoff on the A12. Really, it'll be nothing earth-shattering. Unless you're my one reader who lives virtually nextdoor, you wouldn't be interested.

But the bloke giving me the Olympic spiel let slip one particularly interesting snippet of advance information. Included amongst the many Vehicle Screening Areas there'll be one out east for Stratford's new Westfield megamall. As you might expect, shoppers driving into its multi-storey car parks during the Games should expect to be police-checked. More unexpectedly, these random screening checks will begin early, several months before the the Opening Ceremony takes place. There you'll be popping into John Lewis for an Easter gift or barbecue set, and your car might just be flagged down for an anti-terrorist once-over. The E15 police state kicks off prematurely, it seems, because security chiefs can't be too careful.

Our conversation was highly professional, and the ODA employees were able to answer all my questions. It was only after I'd turned to leave that I realised they hadn't once asked me what I thought about the plans. This had been a one-way transmission exercise, from them to me. They hadn't offered me one of their response cards piled up on the table and asked me to fill it in. They hadn't asked whether I was in favour or not, they'd just assumed. Indeed, in common with several other so-called 'consultation' events I've been to round here over the last few years, no direct consultation actually took place.

The Tower Hamlets Vehicle Screening Area will be built whatever local people think, however the authorities decide. In this particular case, that may be no bad thing. But in their general approach to public consultation and stakeholder engagement, I fear the ODA are merely ticking boxes .

Friday 22 October 2010

Mayoral Election Result

Lutfur Rahman (Independent) 23283 (51.8%, elected)
Helal Abbas (Labour) 11254 (25.0%, humiliated)
Neil King (Conservative) 5348 (11.9%)
John Griffiths (Lib Dem) 2800 (6.2%)
Alan Duffell (Green) 2300 (5.1%)
Turnout: 25.6%

So a petition from 8% of the electorate
triggered a referendum in which 30% of the electorate
triggered an election in which 13% of the electorate
voted in an independent Mayor for Tower Hamlets.

Yesterday Labour ruled Tower Hamlets, with 63% of the councillors.
Today they still have 63% of the councillors, but no power.

Rarely has a core vote been deployed quite so effectively in the face of an apathetic electorate.

Thursday 21 October 2010

Mayoral Election Day

Today is Mayoral election day in Tower Hamlets.
Alan or Helal or John or Lutfur or Neil.
Tough choice.

My polling card arrived several weeks ago along with an information pamphlet, and that was it. None of the candidates sent me anything else - not a leaflet, not a mailshot, not even a bar graph with arrows labelled "Cannot win here". There might have been some further background in Tower Hamlets' weekly council newspaper East End Life, but they don't bother sending me that any more. There was definitely some virulent propaganda in The London Bangla - a blatantly biased freesheet targeted on certain neighbourhoods in the borough. But I saw nothing targeted at me. It's a good job I remembered to vote anyway.

I normally vote on the way into work but this time I thought I'd vote on the way home. Rush hour, before it got dark, I emerged from Bow Road station to a barrage of leaflets. OK, so there were only two people handing out leaflets, but I made sure I took both. Only then did I discover I'd been given the same leaflet twice, once face up, once face down. Still, all credit to Labour for reminding homebound commuters that there was an election on, because I suspect most of them wouldn't have remembered otherwise.

My polling station's in a nearby school on Bow Road. Again there were canvassers outside, this time supporters of independent candidate Lutfur Rahman. But they were far too busy chatting to notice me wander up to the entrance, and completely failed to hand me one of their huge wodge of leaflets they had to give away. I picked one up out of the gutter on the way out, and saw that one side of the leaflet was an approximate copy of the ballot paper with a thumping big cross showing me precisely where to put my vote. A perfect pictorial representation for voters who don't follow written instructions, or spoken English, particularly well.

The polling station was not crowded. Indeed I was the only voter present, which I found surprising given the time of day. I was completely outnumbered by the five council scrutineers, two of whom dealt with me, and the rest of whom continued overseeing nothing. While they tried to cross my name off their list, I noted that only one other person on my sheet (out of about 50) had bothered voting during the previous 10 hours. Turnout up the slightly more affluent end of Bow looks likely to be rock bottom.

Not so nearby in Bromley-by-Bow. I passed the polling station in St Leonards Street at the end of the rush hour, after dark, and the pavement outside was seething. Canvassers, supporters, supporters of supporters, and a single policewoman keeping an eye on the lot. There was no unpleasant atmosphere and I was allowed to pass quite freely (indeed some of the folk with rosettes looked very disappointed when I didn't turn into the school playground as they'd hoped). But the contrast with my own polling station was stark. This was lively and animated, with the local Bangladeshi community considerably more engaged in the electoral process. Maybe that's because Helal Abbas lives just around the corner, but it wasn't only his followers massing outside.

I passed by one more time, half an hour before the polls closed. There were still umpteen political souls milling on the pavement outside the primary school, but now accompanied by two policemen. And a police van. And an unmarked police van. And even the Tower Hamlets CCTV van, parked up opposite to keep a recorded eye on proceedings. Did something kick off while I was away? Was there a big row between the Abbasers and the Rahmanites? No idea, but I've certainly never seen quite such a uniformed presence outside a polling station before.

Whatever the final Mayoral result, one thing seems clear. The final outcome will be decided by specific neighbourhoods that took great interest, and the apathetic will have do make do with whichever candidate those enthusiastic supporters select.

Wednesday 6 October 2010

Three Mills

Britain's oldest, and largest, tidal mill is in Newham. But it's also in E3. It's the House Mill, at Three Mills. And it's open every Sunday afternoon if you fancy a look round.

Three MillsThere are only two mills at Three Mills, although there used to be eight in medieval times. One survivor is the Clock Mill, so called it has a clock on the tower [photo], and the other is the House Mill, so called because the miller's house used to be nextdoor. The House Mill's the bigger, and dates back to 1776 in approximately its current form [photo]. It was built to grind grain not for flour but for the distillation of alcohol, most notably gin. All that came to an end one incendiary night during the Blitz, and it took sixty years for the mill to be rebuilt and restored. A fine upstanding body of volunteers maintain the site and open it up once a week (once a month in the winter) so that visitors can take a look around. It's busier than it could be, but not perhaps as busy as it should be.

Unlike most modern visitor attractions, the café and gift shop are located on the way in. You can have a sandwich or a toasted teacake while your tour guide gets ready, and maybe watch the introductory video (if you can hear the commentary above the hubbub of raucous diners). It's all endearingly amateur, even the unlikely second hand book stall in the corner, and all the better for it. Eventually you'll be heading off up the metal staircase which links together the old and the new parts of the mill. The miller's house turns out to be the wholly new part [photo], containing offices and a penthouse conference room, although from out the front it's a terribly convincing fake. Up top there's a fine view of the tidal river, and how it splits in half to feed the two different mills on the site. You also get some idea of the grand scale of the Three Mills film studios nextdoor, once all part of the same refinery complex, and apparently a former distribution centre for Bacardi.

But it's the old mill you'll be wanting to explore. This is a splendid building, on several storeys, lovingly assembled from pine beams beneath a steeply pitched roof. Some of those beams are English Heritage replacements, but others (the chunkier, woodwormier ones) date back over 200 years. Health and Safety dictates you can't climb right to the top, but you can look up to see the wheel which hoisted sacks of grain to the high level bins. A series of hoppers and chutes directed the grain back down, ensuring it ended up between the right millstones at the right time, ready for the clunking machinery to whirr into action and get grinding. You have to watch your head lest you hit some wooden or metal protuberance, and watch your step in case you dislodge some trapdoor and open up a direct route to the floor below.

Eventually the tour reaches ground level, which is where the milled grain ended up and where the four waterwheels are. They're in two pairs, and also from completely different generations. The largest is a metal Victorian contraption, while the oldest is wooden and so fragile that the trustees daren't even touch it. All are controlled by their own sluice gate, and exist in a dark netherworld of decay and pigeon feathers. If there's ever any money going for further restoration, it's hoped that at least one of these wheels might turn again, powered as before by the ebbing tide. Alas, given that Newham can no longer spare any money even for local schoolchildren to come visiting, further regeneration may be several years off.

Tuesday 5 October 2010

CS2 - Bow to Aldgate

A month after dropping an introductory leaflet though our letterboxes, TfL have finally got round to publishing a map showing the route of Cycle Superhighway 2 - Bow to Aldgate. It's not a very detailed map, indeed we could all have guessed it would follow the A11 from along Whitechapel Hight Street, Whitechapel Road, Mile End Road and Bow Road. No surprise either that it'll link to the Regent's Canal towpath (or "cana towpath" as the key has it). Apparently there's going to be the provision of cycle parking at Bow Church DLR station. That must be new, surely, because I don't ever remember seeing any bikes padlocked up outside. And the Superhighway will terminate at the Bow Roundabout, rather than attempting to lure cyclists across several lanes of traffic and over the Bow Flyover. That elevated crossing may come later, once the Olympics are over, because nobody dares paint Stratford's roads blue before 2012. Expect to see roadworks and junction realignments along the A11 between now and next summer... but you'll have to wait to see precisely where that might be.

Saturday 2 October 2010

E3 travel update

Run: The Olympic Marathon really isn't coming our way, is it? Not because we're ugly, nor because we're boring, but because we'd disrupt the special lanes of 2012 delegate traffic. Athletes and sponsors have to be able to get around town or else the Games seize up, so apparently it's for the greater good that 100-or-so athletes go running somewhere else. Personally, I don't get it. The road from Aldgate to Bow isn't part of the main Olympic Route Network - all the big limousines are to be directed down round via Poplar instead. There's a half mile overlap close to the stadium, between Bow and Stratford, but this is all dual carriageway and flyover so it'd be piss-easy to separate runners and vehicles. There'd be much more of a gridlock issue at the Tower Bridge end, Lord Coe has hinted, and that's the dealbreaker. But the road to Stratford doesn't start at Tower Bridge, so an eastbound marathon still ought to be perfectly possible. Most bastardly of all, the revised marathon route is then likely to head along Upper Thames Street and the Embankment ("heavily used every day of the Games with most extensive traffic management measures"). If the marathon can still shut three miles of Olympic Core Route in central London, what's the problem with a fraction of a mile further east? Dear Seb, if an announcement on the amputation of the East End's marathon is imminent, you'd better come up with a better excuse than this. A gold-medal-winning PR disaster awaits.

Rail: Good news, travellers. Crossrail looks likely to survive the upcoming slash'n'burn cuts, and will go ahead with all its stations and spurs intact. Which is great if you live in Maidenhead or Romford or Abbey Wood. But still of no use in E3. Ours is the only postcode along the entire route which Crossrail will tunnel under, but within which it won't stop. W1 and W2 get stations, and EC1 and E1, even E16, but not E3. Our nearest stations will be at least a mile away. None of the convenience, but of all the hassle of shaft-building and boring machines for several years. But you're right, who'd want to stop here anyway?

Walk: Boris's Story of London Festival started yesterday, and runs for ten days. There's only one event scheduled for E3, and even then only just. Blue Badge guides are leading £8 walking tours towards the Olympic Park, and they'll be setting off from Bromley-by-Bow station next weekend at 11am. Sounds great, except that these are pretty much the same £8 walking tours which set off from Bromley-by-Bow station every single day of every week. They're pretty popular, it has to be said, but they're by no means a special event put on for the Mayor's festival. If it's a unique local walk you want, I'd recommend the 14th Floor Project's free guided tours round nearby housing estates (being held in E2 and E14 next week) instead.

Tuesday 28 September 2010

Starter for ten

Here are ten E3-related things I'd be interested in reading about...

• The Green Bridge - is it dying?
Mile End station - seriously, which cretin thought this was an improvement?
• Which is E3's most heritage-tastic street?
• Are Tesco ever going to build that controversial store on Roman Road?
• Is Jongleurs worth a visit? Is it even still open?
Gangs of E3 - is there a secret subculture?
• That new set of traffic lights outside the police station, useless or what?
• Whatever happened to the London Gas Museum?
Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park - it's nice, innit?
• The new St Andrew's development - who'd buy a box in the sky?

...although I bet your list would be more interesting (and probably more relevant).

Monday 27 September 2010


I thought I'd start a hyperlocal blog of my own. I mean, why not? I've called it eethree (because ethree and e-three were already taken), and here it is. Don't get excited, there's nothing on here you haven't read on my main blog already. I've uploaded all my E3-related posts from the last couple of years to create a brief backstory, and now all that's missing is the new stuff. Maybe you'd help me write it.

I don't have time to maintain two blogs, not properly, so I'd be delighted if certain local folk could help me out with this new one. Let me know, and I'll add friendly literate authors to my eethree permissions list. Only news and comment from the E3 postcode will be permitted. That includes Mile End, Bow and Bromley-by-Bow, even Three Mills and Fish Island, but not Victoria Park or the Olympic Park. Please let's have nothing extreme, nor rampantly advertorial, nor anything applicable to Tower Hamlets as a whole. I reserve the right to moderate what gets churned out, or even to delete the entire project if it doesn't work. But let's hope eethree takes off. HyperEastEndlocality, it's the future you know.

Thursday 23 September 2010


WARNING: This post contains rude words and swearing. And justifiably so, I think.

The route of the 2012 Olympic marathon runs straight past my front door! How exciting is that?

But maybe not for much longer. There are mutterings, and rumours, and posturings which suggest that the marathon won't be coming my way after all. It won't pass through the East End, and it won't finish at the Olympic Stadium. Instead the Tower Hamlets arm will be amputated to allow the race to finish on the Mall instead. Which would be a bloody disgrace.

This decision isn't yet certain. Indeed Olympic chiefs haven't yet made any official announcement whatsoever. So I'll hold back from describing the organising committee as "a bunch of brand-obsessed fuckwits who don't give a toss about local communities", at least until the news is confirmed.

The new route, allegedly, runs three times round a circuit of Central London, both starting and finishing on the Mall. It'll pass such renowned London landmarks as Tower Bridge, St Paul's, Big Ben and Buckingham Palace, which should look lovely on TV and attract millions of extra tourists to visit our fair city. But it'll no longer pass Whitechapel Market, Mile End and the Bow Flyover because, by implication, they're shitholes unworthy of prime global airtime.

I am, to say the least, pissed off by this.

I've been very excited about the east-facing route of the London marathon ever since it was first announced. And I'm not the only one.
London 2012 Chairman, Sebastian Coe, said London's famous sights and settings will help to make the London 2012 Marathon a unique and unforgettable Olympic experience for all involved. "We wanted to design a course that will create lasting memories and moments for the runners, spectators, television audiences and the Olympic Movement; a course that will inspire a new generation of athletes and runners," said Coe, a double Olympic Gold medallist. (15 April 2005)
The previous route, which made Seb all weak at the knees, wasn't much different to the revised route being touted around today. It started at Tower Bridge, then ran three identical loops down to Westminster and back, passing almost every iconic London landmark an international TV broadcaster could have desired [map]. Apart from the precise starting point, this concept of "three times round central London" hasn't changed. What has changed is that in the old version when the runners reached Aldgate for the third time they carried on, and ran up the A11 (aka HS2012, aka BCS2) to reach the Olympic Stadium. Because Olympic marathons always end at the Olympic Stadium. Even if that means, as in Athens in 2004, running along 'boring' peripheral roads lined with flats, shops and garages. London 2012 want to break the mould by ending in front of the Queen's house instead, and bollocks to tradition and to the East End.

One especially feeble excuse being wheeled out is that this more compact course "enables spectators lining the route to watch the runners pass by several times." Pah, you devious fact-twisting bastards, the old route did that too. In fact the new route allows fewer people to watch the marathon than was previously planned, because the triple-loop still exists but nobody in East London gets to see the race at all. The Nu-Marathon looks like being a sanitised circuit race designed to minimise road closures, and all to avoid the Olympic Route Network clogging up. We can't have sponsors' limousines getting stuck in traffic, can we, because they're the priority.

And let's get this in perspective. A marathon is 26.2 miles long. The road from Aldgate to the Olympic Park in Stratford is 3.3 miles long. This means that TV broadcasters have kicked up a fuss about a mere 12½% of the marathon route. World class athletes should be able to run this distance in about 15 minutes. A couple of strategically placed commercial breaks should cover that, if TV bosses are really so paranoid about showing what they perceive to be uninterrupted kebab shops and council estates. To be honest, I think audiences might appreciate a few miles of something different after 1¾ hours of thrice-repeated landmarks.

All is not yet lost. A London 2012 spokeswoman said: "We have not yet confirmed all the details of the marathon route, we are in the process of finalising all the details and we hope to announce an approved route shortly." But if the final route castrates the East End, then half a million nearby residents are going to feel wholly cheated when marathon day comes round. And "a bunch of brand-obsessed fuckwits who don't give a toss about local communities" is going to be the mildest of my thoughts.

If London is really so ashamed of its East End, perhaps it shouldn't have built the Olympic Stadium there.

Sunday 1 August 2010

Hackney Wicked

Hackney Wicked FestivalWhere's the epicentre of East London's creative community? Brick Lane? More a tourist trap than an arts hub. Shoreditch? No longer as cool as it once thought it was. Try Hackney Wick. Its winding streets and graffiti-ed warehouses are home to more contemporary arty folk than you might expect, and this weekend they're throwing their doors open as part of the Hackney Wicked Festival. A damned impressive amount of cultural stuff is on show. More than 600 artists' studios are open (go on, any other part of London, beat that), and you're free to wander around and have a look. Just-painted canvases, quirky sculptures, mucky workdesks with nibbles on, that sort of thing. Some of the old buildings are more interesting than the art (sorry), including the opportunity to walk up three or four floors for a nice view over the Olympic Park. One gallery has bands playing on the roof, plus sofas for slouching in, plus astroturf and beer; another is hosting a fake church fete complete with tea and cakes. There are two main foci, one around Hackney Wick station and the other on Fish Island. In the former, it was great to see the derelict Lord Napier pub opened up, and Queen's Yard given over to a market with live music and food [homemade chocolate brownie from endearingly amateur bakers, tick]. In the latter, minor road closures gave rise to impromptu street parties, again with music, crafts and drink much in evidence [plastic beaker of Pimms poured by lady wearing lampshade, tick]. Forman's salmon smokery was open, with access to a roof terrace and the chance to look round their permanent top floor art gallery [smoked salmon bagel cooked by chef in the street, yum]. The whole event was packed with hipsters and beardykids, average age about 30 I'd have said, which made me feel a bit like I wasn't target audience. But I spent far longer looking round than I expected, and got to explore several non-pristine buildings I'd only ever walked past never dreaming I'd get inside. If you go today be warned that Hackney Wick station is closed, and that the event's website frequently collapses due to excessive demand. But never mind, just turn up and collect the excellent programme/map, and you won't miss a thing. Watch out in particular for the Coracle Regatta on the Lea (2-6pm), and a demonstration by the Hackney Wick Cold War Re-enactment Society (noon-3pm), and a closing procession to "Burn the Wicker Man" (ends 9:30pm). And pray that nobody ever sanitises and commercialises this end of town, because it's wicked as it is.

Friday 2 July 2010

LFA 2010

The London Festival of Architecture hit my bit of town last weekend. Up and down High Street 2012, from Aldgate to Stratford, a series of building-worthy events and installations to celebrate the East End's architectural creativity. And one of those events was really close to home, in the unlikely locale of Stroudley Walk, E3.

If you don't live around here, all you need to know is that Stroudley Walk is post-war-grim. A windswept piazza lined by bottom-of-the-heap retail units. A boarded-up pub in the shadow of a squat tower block, and a chippie I'm not convinced sells cod any more. An echoing void with space enough for a complete market, where only one single stall-trader sets up shop. It's nowhere to linger, unless you've got some cheap alcohol and the entire day to spare. Socially speaking, Stroudley Walk's an architectural disaster.

Walk The LineEnter the University of Innsbruck. As part of the The International Student Architecture Festival, they asked architecture students to create some challenging artistic installations up and down High Street 2012. An innovative slatted staircase in Whitechapel, for one, and some guerilla gardening (in rubber gloves) along the Lea towpath north of the Bow Flyover [photo] [photo]. Stroudley Walk got Walk The Line, which was essentially the opportunity to slap a bright blue line across the pavement and see what happened. Simple and cheap, but would any of the locals react?

The blue line went down a week ago. The students painted glue all the way along Bromley High Street, then painstakingly walked along and stuck a thick strip of blue tape over the top. At the junction with Bow Road they draped a roll of blue cloth along the railings of the gents conveniences, and tied the top end to Mr Gladstone's right hand. All in all surprisingly effective [photo]. And then they went back to their lodgings for the evening.

Stroudley WalkThe following day much of the line had degraded. The glue wasn't designed to be permanent, and passing footfall had dislodged several sections and left others flapping. The blue cloth had been moved so it didn't impede passing pushchairs heading to the pelican crossing. And in Stroudley Walk itself, the entire blue line had been ripped up and thrown into the square's recycling bins. The culprit could have been pesky kids, but I prefer to believe that some well-meaning cleaner assumed the line was vandalism not art, and dutifully removed the lot.

Over the weekend Mr Gladstone's ribbon was unceremoniously chopped, leaving no line to walk, only a short strip of fabric dangling in mid-air. But the students had a better idea for a more durable line elsewhere. They used blue paint this time, and progressed along Stroudley Walk putting out branches to various features along the way. A 'postcard' branch to the post office, a 'market' branch to the fruit & veg stall, that sort of thing, adding a little complexity to the project. But the local populace were unmoved. They walked straight through the area as normal, especially the adults, even the kids, I suspect because nobody quite understood what was going on.

Stroudley WalkBut the students had one last trick to encourage audience interaction. They'd brought along several simple 'added extras', all painted the same shade of vibrant blue, and dumped them liberally all over the square. A blue bookcase, with free books to take away. Four blue deckchairs under a blue umbrella. A blue dining table, plus seating. A blue noughts and crosses board with blue counters. Two billowing blue curtains with a gap inbetween labelled 'theater'. A square of blue chipboard (with a hole in it) dropped over a bollard to create a makeshift table. And lots of stumpy wooden trunks, painted blue, clustered to create areas of temporary seating. Success.

Local residents paused, and stopped, and lingered. A bunch of teenagers sat around on the blue tree trunks and chatted. The lady from the dry cleaners rested on some blue wood while she had a fag. Merry lager-drinkers settled at the blue table to lap up beer and sunshine. The theatre remained empty, from what I saw, because that was probably culturally over-adventurous for round here. But it was great to see the area temporarily transformed into "a place accommodating social interaction." It's taken a bunch of Austrian students to point out that Stroudley Walk lacks a beating heart, and that communal renaissance could be kickstarted by something as simple as a few cheap benches and a bit of imagination.

Loopzilla's Walk The Line Flickr photoset
Plans to revitalise Stroudley Walk (i.e. build more homes and a new tower block)
The London Festival of Architecture concludes this weekend (at Bankside Urban Forest)

Saturday 24 April 2010

Local news for local people

Kings Arms Guest HouseKings Arms update: I wrote last summer that the Kings Arms pub in Bow Road appeared to have closed down. The building then went very quiet until earlier this year when builders arrived and started doing the place up. I realised the worst - no more pub - when I peered in through the windows and saw partition walls and a staircase where the bar used to be. This week the new owners have even painted over the characterful "Kings Arms" lettering on the front of the building and replaced this with a wonky ill-judged aberration whose letters are already peeling off. The full name of the new business is only revealed in a tiny amateur sign in the window, inkjet-printed from a single sheet of A4 paper. This has been chopped into strips and stuck with tape not quite horizontally to the glass, and mutely announces the arrival of the "Kings Arms Guest House". As rebranding goes, this is woefully inept. The 2-star guest house has yet to open, but already has a web presence written by incompetents: "Kings Arms Guest House is a newly refurbished bughet accomodation that has excellent connectivity due to its prime location that suites to the Olympic Site officials working at Stratford, Banking & Business sector community of Canary Warf & Excel Centre and the tourists travelling to Central London visiting places." Another pub bites the dust, stripped and gutted to meet the 21st century business paradigm. Only the landlord of the Bow Bells opposite might raise a glass to that.

488 bus update: Good news for Hackney/Bow residents who use the 488 bus to get home from Tesco. TfL have tweaked the 488's southbound destination, truncating the route by two stops so that it now terminates outside Tesco in Hancock Road. This means that northbound buses now start from Tesco, allowing elderly shoppers to hop on here rather than having to lug their bags on a long trek under a dual carriageway. This greatly improves on TfL's previous (whispered) advice to pensioners to stay on the bus to Twelvetrees Crescent, wait while the driver stopped off for a fag, and then continue back up to Roman Road. It's only taken 2 years to get back the looped service lost when the S2 was withdrawn in 2008. Except this isn't quite the perfect solution. The southbound 488 now terminates one stop short of Bromley-by-Bow station, which means that a direct connection between bus and tube has been lost. Meanwhile each northbound bus stops at Bromley-by-Bow station twice, once on each side of the dual carriageway, which is pointless overkill. It seems that TfL have prioritised access to Tesco over access to their own tube station. Why am I not surprised?

Bromley-by-Bow Tesco update: Planning permission is now being sought for the development of an utterly ginormous Tesco just to the south of the existing superstore. A revised application is up on the Tower Hamlets website, and there's very little time to object. It's hard to see what's changed since the last lot of plans, which were damningly described as "incoherent" and "piecemeal" by government advisory body CABE. In particular the Tesco store still gets the prime spot by the river, while the residential blocks and multi-storey hotel are fated to stare out across the noisy smelly A12. They also want to divert northbound buses so that these serve the new store rather than the existing community. It's easy to see what benefits Tesco get from the redevelopment, but I fear that their priorities are about to ride roughshod over an ideal solution for local residents. A planning decision like this only gets made once, but we'll all have to live with the consequences for decades.