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Thursday, 13 October 2011

Westfield East - Aspirational Redevelopment

Projects of redevelopment tend often to change, rather than improve an area. Often, this change is such that it inhibits and restricts access to those who, in principle, it is designed to serve. The architect Erno Goldfinger's brutalist-style Trellick Tower, the 31-story council flats in North Kensington, soon became a listed building. These flats, originally designed to house the least well-off in the area, now sell for at least £500,000 and the tower has become a cult icon.

Similarly, the redevelopment of Spitalfields market meant that its original function as a fruit and veg market was sidelined and moved to another site: the site became, instead, the heart of the revived East End, a venue full of mid-to-high end restaurants and a fashion and vintage market.

None of these changes are intrinsically bad. Certainly not for me, an individual more inclined to tuck into a restaurant meal than a Golden Delicious, if I was going to have to traipse across East London to get there. But it does not necessarily best serve those who live in the local area, who rely upon the provision of such amenities.

That is my grip with the new Westfield. Once I've settled into my job and pay packets start to line my account, I'll be able to reap its benefits but at the present time, I expect my sentiments towards it are similar to some of the residents of Newham's, who I've talked about it with. Yes, it's good for the area - as in it is better than nothing. But I can't really afford it.

It is not paternalistic or condescending to say that the people of Newham might need more than the 'gastronomic adventures' offered to them on Westfield's website. Newham is one of the most deprived boroughs within London, thus one of the most deprived boroughs in the country. It needs something more than a 32,000 square foot John Lewis. It is something of a paradox that the largest urban shopping centre in the EU has been built in the heart of the most economically stifled areas. But it's not really for the residents is it?

Maybe. It seems part of that time-honoured traditional of thought, whereby the poor can aspire themselves out of poverty. Maybe walking past TagHeuer every day will instill some backbone into them and make them realise what they could afford if they applied themselves. Regeneration of aspiration, you could say. And the horrible thing is that this logic is what drives consumer capitalism. It is the logic that saw the least well off kids in my class when I was in school be the ones wearing the most expensive Rockports, or Timberlands, or whatever was currently in fashion. It's the same logic that sees a 13 year old pissed off at her mum because she bought her Umbro. Strive for what you can't afford is the logic.

Or maybe it's not even that. Maybe it is the Spitalfields style regeneration where the outcome will be a complete different clientele. Maybe it is the burgeoning footsteps of a gentrification of the 'Far East' - the East is seen as a cool place to be, as far as Bethnal Green, but beyond that, it could be that Stratford is the catalyst.

On the week that the bombshell was dropped that the new Olympic Stadium will not go to West Ham, as Boris had promised, it becomes ever more doubtful that the Olympic inheritance will have much to offer for the current residents of the East End.

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