North South East West
In every city – whether it be a modern metropolis or an ancient maze of little winding streets – there are distinct areas. And I don’t mean like Chinatown or the financial districts. I mean the area to which we pin our identity – the part of a city that forms us, to which we are often fiercely loyal and will defend when it is scathed or mocked. Where we are born or where we choose to live has a huge impact on our personality, our upbringing and even our cultural and social consciousness.
And London is no different. I’ve read countless articles – some rather tongue-in-cheek, others focusing on being informative, and yet more which are just downright rude – which discuss the regions of London. And here, it’s all based on the geography of the city. Are you North or South of the river? And East or West of the centre? The North-South divide is a source of constancy in this ever-changing city – whilst the riverbanks have morphed over time, the general course of the Thames has run true for hundreds of years. East-West has become a little more difficult to pinpoint though, as the centre of London has sprawled from the original city walls and now seems to encompass the entire area between Westminster and the Tower of London.
Trendy East London I now just count as “central” – I wouldn’t think twice about going to Shoreditch for brunch or Bethnal Green for dinner, whereas I’d imagine 10 years ago that would have been a serious trek. The construction of the Overground has made these areas particularly accessible to me (living as I do in South East London), and Crossrail will undoubtedly open up London even more. It’s still a serious irritation to me that South London (SOLO!) is so continuously ignored by the Mayor’s office though. Where’s our Crossrail? I’ve got close friends who live in Tooting, and it takes me over an hour to get there on public transport as I have to go into London Bridge and then back out on the Northern Line for what is only about a 20 minute drive. Ridiculous. That’s by the by, however…
London is undoubtedly one of the most diverse cities in the world, and yet parts of it are remarkably similar. Especially once you get deeper into suburbia. I remember arriving in Harrow to visit a friend from university, and thinking to myself that it looked exactly like Bromley where I had travelled from. Can you tell whereabouts in London the pictures in this post are? I’d wager not. Would you have guessed that only one is taken north of the river?
And yet, people are so snobbish about their London. To our advantage in the South East, house prices reflect that snobbery, meaning some parts of SE are still quite affordable. No such luck in SW though – we can all think about how nice it would be to live it Putney or Battersea, but quite frankly it’s a pipe dream for the majority.
And, even though I do think that different parts of London do have a distinct character, that can all change in a generation. The gentrification of London is constantly being discussed – you can actually see it on the streets as the types of shops and restaurants change to cater for the ever-burgeoning middle classes, who are pushed into new areas due to rising property prices in their more traditional haunts. Forest Hill is a case in point – when I was a child my family left that area because it was dirty and the schools weren’t very good, but now it’s extremely desireable with lots of nice little cafes and pubs. Perhaps part of this is all to do with the young generation being considerably less patient than the old – many of us (myself included) don’t want to sit on a train for 40 minutes every day, twice a day, just so we can have a garden.
But does that mean as the character of a location changes, that it’s reptuation will too? Or will South London, and South East especially, still be branded as a bit rough in comparison to it’s Northern and Western counterparts? When, in reality, the differences between them is shrinking? I’ve actually met individuals who have never been south of the Thames, and still regard South London as a bit of a wasteland… what?! Just, what?! One can only hope…
Will the extension of public transport and improving accessibility across London impact the strong geographical sense of belonging Londoners attach to their part of London? And will it mean that people explore London more?
For the record, I love ALL of London, and shall continue to explore it with an insatiable appetite (and I don’t just mean the restaurants). And I encourage you the reader to do so too. Obviously I’ll never let go of my roots – I love South East London and have no reason to leave it – but that won’t stop me discovering what else this great city and it’s extensive suburbs have to offer.