Sunday, 13 May 2012


I've never actually lived in London, although I did have a couple of years in Surrey, which is only a short train ride away. As a student, I would whizz down to the Metropolis from Yorkshire for a day, and visit places like the Tate Gallery, the National Gallery, the Hayward Gallery, the Design Centre and so on. But it was never a place where I felt I wanted to live. It was dirty, unfriendly, very expensive (that hasn't changed) and just generally not a place where you could honestly say 'wow, I love this'.

That was about 35 years ago. The place has come on a bit since then. There have been some amazing architectural developments like the Lloyds Building and the Gherkin (no 30, St Mary Axe) and some other projects around the City of London. There's Canary Wharf, the 02 and the DLR. There's the [insert name of sponsor] London Eye. There's the new City Hall and re-development of the surrounding area. There's St Pancras / King's Cross Stations redevelopment. The Shard near London Bridge will soon be completed. And there are loads of smaller-scale projects that just make the place look better and that seem to (eventually) make people take a bit of pride in it.

But, for me, the most important thing has been the opening up of the South Bank of the Thames as a pedestrian walkway: you can now walk for miles along the river. And hand-in-hand with this is the Millennium Walkway that opens up a stunning vista between St Paul's Cathedral and the Tate Modern.

All of this brings with it cafes, bars, restaurants, markets and an incredible array of street food vendors.

And now London has a few more new landmarks related to the upcoming Olympics. The one that really caught my attention and inspired me to write this post is the ArcelorMittal Orbit Tower. This report in The Guardian describes it as a 'drunken party animal of a building'. It's a sculpture, an observation tower with great views of London, possibly a folly, definitely a landmark, ultimately I think, London's answer to Paris's Eiffel Tower. Make sure you watch the video in that link, and gurgle with disbelief as Newham residents describe it as 'a noffink, it's noffink', and point out that the money would have been better spent on fixing some of the Council's housing stock (possibly yes, but why do you think that Lakshmi Mittal, the steel company billionaire who injected £19 million into the project, would prefer to fix up your council house?). The point being that Brits in general always take a default 'it's a white elephant, it's a waste of money, we can't afford it' stance on anything new, and eventually grudgingly admit they 'quite like it, it's not too bad really'.