A Thousand and Some Sites: Celebrating the State of London

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My thanks to everyone taking an interest in the project, which has just reached 3,800 followers — plus many more who follow the photos on my own Facebook page, and also those who follow ‘The State of London’ on Twitter.

A lot has changed in eight and a half years. Back in May 2012, the Tory government of David Cameron, having cynically introduced an “age of austerity” when they took power in 2010, in response to the banker-led global economic crash of 2008, nevertheless established that money was no object when it came to hosting the Olympic Games, which began in July. Billions of pounds were spent on the erasure of old, industrial Stratford by the River Lea, and money was also found for beautifying projects across the capital that provided a distraction from the capital’s other face — one of deranged house price inflation and exorbitant rents, often in relation to properties whose main characteristic was that were actually quite old and tatty.

The Olympics allegedly provided London — and the country as a whole — with a “feel good” factor, although, to my mind, it primarily helped to create a form of jingoism and perceived exceptionalism that fed directly into the Brexit vote of 2016, whilst also fulfilling the Olympics’ other economic and political by-products: an opportunity for social cleansing, increased authoritarianism and continuing opportunities for inward investment in “mixed-use” developments of overpriced housing, offices and retail spaces.

As I cycled around the capital in the years following the Olympics, I watched as the legacy of the Olympics — aided by the business-accommodating Boris Johnson as London’s Mayor — saw new developments counter-intuitively rising up across the capital in vast numbers; I say counter-intuitively because it was all taking place against a backdrop of increasing poverty, and an ever-growing gulf between the rich and the poor.

One particularly dispiriting aspect of London’s takeover by property-based capital was the destruction of council estates — or, as everyone involved described it, their “regeneration.” What had once been genuinely affordable housing for all was destroyed — with no concern for the environmental costs of doing so — and replaced with new properties that were mostly for private sale, but that also included a considerably less affordable element of allegedly social housing, delivered by housing associations, which, in response to Tory cuts, had enthusiastically embraced the opportunity to become public/private property developers with only a sideline in providing rented housing at less than market rents.

It was also dispiriting to realise that, across the capital, Labour councils had also responded to Tory cuts by enthusiastically embracing the stealthy removal of poorer residents from their boroughs, to be replaced by the illusion of attracting “aspirational” incomers with money to spare; the reality being that most of these incomers, if they could be located, also ended up being fleeced, having little left to put into their local economies after paying their over-inflated mortgages or rents.

And so to 2020, when the pressure cooker of 21st century London life suddenly hit a wall — and not even the environmental one that activists like Extinction Rebellion had been warning of, and which I had covered in my photographic journeys, along with all the destruction and hubristic high-rise developments described above.

Covid-19 — when Boris Johnson’s government belatedly woke up to the threat it posed, implementing a lockdown on March 23 — has, of course, completely transformed London in the last eight months, as I recorded in my photos — and accompanying essays — throughout the whole of the first lockdown, when I was repeatedly drawn to the unprecedented emptiness of the West End and the City in particular.

Gone were the tourists who, in environmentally unsustainable numbers, largely maintained the capital’s hectic, crowded worlds of hospitality, entertainment and retail. Gone too were the office workers who also did so much to sustain it, as they began working from home instead, and, in a majority of cases, found it preferable to the hideously overcrowded and often ridiculously expensive commuter journeys that they had previously been enduring.

Quite what the future holds is difficult to see right now, as the city emerges from another, more difficult month of lockdown, in which there was nothing to do and it was, for so much of the time, also cold and dark. With so many jobs lost, and so many businesses on the edge of collapse, a vaccine now seems to be our saviour, but it will not suddenly make life “safe” again, and, in any case, the desire to return to “business as usual”, as it was before Covid hit, is to ignore the environmental unsustainability of our previous lives, in which, to a large extent, we all — or those of us in the West, at least — behaved with the appetites of spoiled toddlers or medieval kings.

I’m delighted that so many of you have chosen to accompany me on this journey, which, of course, has many other aspects that are less politically charged, and if you’d like to make a donation to support ‘The State of London’, please feel free to do so, as I have no funding for it.

I hope, in the coming year, to finally set up a website, featuring, for a change, entire photo sets with accompanying essays, and I’m also still hoping that someone might be interested in putting on an exhibition. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you can help in any way.

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Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield

He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here, or here for the US, or you can watch it online here, via the production company Spectacle, for £2.55), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from eight years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of the documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London. For two months, from August to October 2018, he was part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody. Although the garden was violently evicted by bailiffs on October 29, 2018, and the trees were cut down on February 27, 2019, the resistance continues.

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, The Complete Guantánamo Files, the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

 

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

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