Thursday, August 14, 2014


High rises are starting to dominate the London core between Blackfriars Bridge and London Bridge  there is major building going on EVERYWHERE  even right next to some very old buildings in the very heart of the city. 

The Brits don't seem to have the same obsession with historic preservation as we do in my hometown of Annapolis, where debates can rage for months and even years about someones window, rose trellis, or sidewalk cafe.  In truly ancient cities like Edinburgh, Glasgow, and London, they preserve that which is of real historic significance while recognizing that they live in towns that need to get on with their natural evolution as places where lots of people live, work, shop, and play.  They are working cities, not hermetically sealed toy towns. The new and the old can — and must — peacefully coexist with one another.  It is a fluid process that allows for growth and development.

I asked several Brits that I met along the way about this and they all essentially had similar responses which I will attempt to paraphrase.

"The United States really isn't that old.  But it very much wants to think of itself in that way.  So, it tries to preserve everything of a certain age without rhyme or reason.  Here in the UK, the age of a building isn't the determining factor as to whether or not it is important to protect, but rather, what transpired there.  And just because there's an advertising sign or a modern structure nearby does not lessen or detract from its significance."

The general consensus seemed to be that once the United States gets old enough, it will have to base its preservation decisions on common sense, rather than simply the age of something.

It was a very interesting perspective indeed.

While central London is rocketing skyward, the "new" London is being built on the south side of the Thames, in Southwark  pronounced Suthark  where it has always been a basic free-for-all since Shakespeare's times. 

Historically, Southwark was where people went to have some wild fun and see theater of all sorts  these activities being outlawed on the north bank in proper old London. Southwark was also home to extreme sports, like bear baiting, where people bet on packs of dogs fighting chained bears. 

Today, the Wild West mentality manifests itself throughout Southwark in the form of building impressive super high rises. Unlike in central London, there are no height restrictions on the south bank and over thirty tall monsters are currently underway, with even more to come, for sure. It is safe to say that in another twenty years, the skyline of London will look completely different than what we saw in 2014.


Add to this equation the fact that Southwark has been one of London's hard luck areas since before the beginning  crime is a major employer and education is the pits  so this building boom will definitely raise the standard of living for one of London's most depressed areas. 


Then again, the economic benefit may not be fully realized by the locals in terms of the construction jobs because London has adopted the Arab Emirates building model. They ship in cheap but reliable labor  lots of Africans, for instance  and then they build double-decker housing right on the edge of the skyscraper; the workers literally live on the job site. Their housing has small bedrooms, bathrooms, communal areas, and kitchens. It's kind of like working on an oil rig in the middle of Britain's greatest city.  

Clearly the foreign workers benefit from this system, but it seems crazy to me that the folks who bankroll these massive building projects can not build their towering monuments on the backs of local "Southy" men and women, rather than desperate immigrants. In America, some will often argue that the locals are too lazy or unskilled. And they like to push the same line of crap in London. 

But I suspect it has more to deal with the plantation philosophy of economic exploitation. From sharecroppers cabins to Army barracks, when you feed and house another human being you control them heart and mind.  

 But I bet the new buildings will look totally awesome.


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