Escaping for the silly season in the face of eastern promise
Time is compressed and you choose between occasional lengthy escape and frequent short stints away. I have always gone for the latter, as it produces less stress on departure and return - or so I believed, until recent events.
The longer you are unavailable, the better the world gets along without you - a liberating, if demoralising, truism. A few days away in Cornwall with mobile phone and email left me wavering between cutting the cord and maintaining contact. Nevertheless, this compromised escape and Cornwall's warm snap suggested that the silly season is upon us.
Homeward bound, I enjoyed Sheffield Wednesday's 4-1 win at Bristol City, while considering how this might affect the presentation, on my return, of a very large 'mock-up' of a very large building to a client who supports said West Country team. It actually went well but that could be because the client's colleagues are fans of Arsenal, a dubious commercial club in alarming decline;
their minds were elsewhere. I also advised my client of the alarmist or optimistic headline (depends on your view of urbanity) in the local paper: 'Ring road will make Bristol another Los Angeles'. As an outsider, the transformation of Bristol, by basic infrastructure, into a world city seemed like a good deal to me.
And so it went on. A stop in Bradfordon-Avon confirmed that a woollen, then rubber, town could now survive on the black economy generated by ÚmigrÚs from London's congestion charge, whereas the unhappy plight of absent fathers blockading the M4 (in a desperate plea to have at least a peripheral involvement in the upbringing of their offspring) failed to stop Her Majesty arriving at the Wales Millennium Centre, albeit four years late (the building, not the train).
In London, talk was of London. At lunch, Andrew Neil, a boy from Paisley and, despite a dalliance with New York, a Londoner now, asked: 'Who will speak for London City State?' He was clear: London belongs to all those who adopt it as theirs, and it needs their help in bucking the trend of history and moving east.
This contrasted with the view we offered to a client. Go west, we said, and build a new piece of city; and while you are at it, we can invent a new model where people will live, work, learn and play together. Actually, it is merely a reinvention of an 18th-century model and, as we don't make anything and no longer have the evils of factory smoke, we can, regardless of prevailing wind, also go east.
On to Lasdun's College of Physicians Building to hear about the London 2012 Olympic City:
a triumph of speed of thought, collaboration and results. Next June matters not - they will do it in some form anyway, with 100 bridges, the Channel Tunnel link at Stratford (if it stops) and the Jubilee Line. The map of London is changing. My concern, however, was that they spoke of now, 2012 and 'the end' in 2025.
London does not have an end and the Olympic Park will dam and damn the flow east that it acclaims, and upon which it is predicated. Why not build an ever more dense new piece of city along the River Lea? After all, its flooding is less severe than that to which it contributes upstream, where we are all now called to build new 'sustainable communities'.
The week ended as I delivered a lecture in Westminster, quickly retitled in response:
'London: Tolerance and the need for it'.
London belongs to those who live here, and to those who do not: London 2012 is not about the residents of Hackney, Newham and Tower Hamlets. Skilled as the Olympic/postOlympic work is, it is flawed by an idea of 'the end' and an excess of good neighbourliness;
consultation is denying the opportunity. As London moves east, so the demographics will change - they always have. London will densify and so must the masterplan.