Oh good, another pretty picture which won’t solve any of London’s actual problems

It looks lovely. Shame it’s such total nonsense. Image: WATG.

It happened again. Another architecture practice has seemingly decided that it’s too difficult to get attention and praise for its actual work, and decided instead to cut out all that difficult “designing and building things” stuff, and just put out a pretty picture.

And it works. The media lap it up, because the readers lap it up. Look how beautiful Fleet Street is, with one, narrow lane of traffic instead of four! Look at the bike lanes! Look at all the plants!

And everyone loves it because you would, wouldn’t you? It looks much nicer than the grey, drab, polluted chasm that is the actual Fleet Street. I said it was a pretty picture, and it is: it’s gorgeous.

But – that’s all it is. It’s not a plan for Fleet Street, because it doesn’t – doesn’t try to – doesn’t even pretend to try to – tackle any of the problems you’d actually have to tackle if you wanted to actually change anything.

In that part of London, there are three east-west routes in the space of about 1km: High Holborn (the A40) in the north, the Victoria Embankment (the A3211) along the river in the south, and Fleet Street (the A4, actually) in between. Those are the only through routes open not just to private cars, but also to delivery vehicles, taxis and – most importantly – buses.

Now I am all in favour of measures to reduce pollution and motor traffic in our cities. But close Fleet Street to most vehicles in this way, and at the very least you need to work out what to do with the six bus routes and eight night bus routes you’ve just displaced.


High Holborn is too far and too crowded. The Embankment is a possibility, but it’s already pretty snarled up itself. And that’s just the buses. It’s probable that not every delivery van, say, currently using Fleet Street needs to be there – but some almost certainly do. What about them? What shall we do with them?

I don’t believe for a second that the people who commissioned this drawing have even thought about this problem. Because solving London’s problems is not what it’s for. What it’s for is garnering free media coverage for a time-pressed and click-hungry media.

You will notice that I’ve not mentioned the name of the architecture practice responsible for this monstrosity. I’m not going to, either. If you really want to know, you can look at the picture credit, but you won’t will you? Because you don’t care either. You’ve seen the pretty picture. You’ve read my rant. You don’t care which particular architects inspired it.

I’m fine with that. I’m fine with you never knowing their name. Because ad buys are shrinking, we’ve got bills to pay, and I am sick of these people thinking they can get free media coverage just because they can use Photoshop.

Also, you know what happens when you start acting like these graphics are serious thought leadership rather than just pretty pictures? Heatherwick, that’s what happens. Do you want to be responsible for creating another Thomas Heatherwick? No. Of course you don’t.

Stop giving these people the oxygen of publicity. Think once. Think twice. Think, don’t click.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook.

 
 
 
 

Academics are mapping the legacy of slavery in Britain’s cities

A detail of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership map showing central Bristol. Image: LBS/UCL.

For 125 years, a statue of the 17th century slave-trader Edward Colston stood in the centre of Bristol, ostensibly to commemorate the philanthropy he’d used his blood money to fund. Then, on 7 June, Black Lives Matter protesters pulled it down and threw it into the harbour

The incident has served to shine a light on the benefits Bristol and other British cities reaped from the Atlantic slave trade. Grand houses and public buildings in London, Liverpool, Glasgow and beyond were also funded by the profits made from ferrying enslaved Africans across the ocean. But because the horrors of that trade happened elsewhere, the role it played in building modern Britain is not something we tend to discuss.

Now a team at University College London is trying to change that. The Legacies of British Slave-Ownership project is mapping every British address linked to a slave-owner. In all, its database contains 5,229 addresses, linked to 5,586 individuals (some addresses are linked to more than one slave owner; some slave owners had more than one home). 

The map is not exact. Streets have often been renumbered; for some individuals, only a city is known, not necessarily an address; and at time of writing, only around 60% of known addresses (3,294 out of 5,229) have been added to the map. But by showing how many addresses it has recorded in each area, it gives some sense of which bits of the UK benefited most from the slave trade; the blue pins, meanwhile, reflect individual addresses, which you can click for more details.

The map shows, for example, that although it’s Glasgow that’s been noisily grappling with this history of late, there were probably actually more slave owners in neighbouring Edinburgh, the centre of Scottish political and financial power.

Liverpool, as an Atlantic port, benefited far more from the trade than any other northern English city.

But the numbers were higher in Bristol and Bath; and much, much higher in and around London.

 

Other major UK cities – Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle – barely appear. Which is not to say they didn’t also benefit from the Triangular Trade (with its iron and weaponry industries, Professor David Dabydeen of Warwick University said in 2007, “Birmingham armed the slave trade”) – merely that they benefited in a less direct way.

The LBS map, researcher Rachel Lang explained via email, is “a never-ending task – we’re always adding new people to the database and finding out more about them”. Nonetheless, “The map shows broadly what we expected to find... We haven’t focused on specific areas of Britain so I think the addresses we’ve mapped so far are broadly representative.” 

The large number in London, she says, reflect its importance as a financial centre. Where more specific addresses are available, “you can see patterns that reflect the broader social geography”. The high numbers of slave-owners in Bloomsbury, for example, reflects merchants’ desire for property convenient to the City of London in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when the district was being developed. Meanwhile, “there are widows and spinsters with slave property living in suburbs and outlying villages such as Chelsea and Hampstead. Country villas surround London.” 


“What we perhaps didn’t expect to see was that no areas are entirely without slave owners,” Lang adds. “They are everywhere from the Orkney Islands to Penzance. It also revealed clusters in unexpected places – around Inverness and Cromarty, for example, and the Isle of Wight.” No area of Britain was entirely free of links to the slave trade.

 You can explore the map here.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

All images courtesy of LBS/UCL