Update on the event reported yesterday – Authoring King’s Cross. Just got an email from Rebecca Ross at Central St Martin’s to say the Wikipedia editing event will concentrate on King’s Cross Central, not King’s Cross. Click here for more.
(Here comes the blog bit – all views my own…)
It got me thinking though, Roger Madelin (of Argent, the King’s Cross Central development company) might rightly ask – Sophie, what the hell should we call King’s Cross Central? And why do you think it’s important? On a trip arranged by Government Office for London to the then derelict site in about 2001 Roger had said King’s Cross was a run down area much in need of redevelopment. I naively piped up, ‘But I love living in King’s Cross’ and Roger replied, ‘but you are a bohemian’.
Now I am a mix of many, many things – English, Irish, African, Dutch, Danish, Indonesian (probably) and German (possibly). Adding Czech to the mix adds a lovely new spice making Good King Wenceslas all the more personal. The mix that I am has given me an abiding interest in the politics of identity, yes I am a Stuart Hall fan and no, not that Stuart Hall. Unsurprising then that I have developed an equally abiding interest in the politics of place. It’s all about belonging for me – what does it mean, why do we need it, how do we shape it and how is it shaped by others?
This seemingly theoretical interest has hard real implications in King’s Cross and has had for many years. If I’d had the gumption I’d have started a longitudinal study back in the late 80s looking at how large scale property developments impact the lives and identities of those that live here. Drat.
Local activists who have fought hard for notable changes to local developments have felt shut out. Despite Camden Council setting up a community development forum to focus engagement before and during King’s Cross Central’s coming into being (they then pulled the plug on the forum’s funding), the overwhelming sense has been of the developers taking negative views of community input. This reached such a peak that a veritable chasm of conflict opened up.
We are now at a point where the very identity of where we live is being challenged. Unsurprisingly. I’ve often wondered how the management of Argent would feel if a development the size of a small town happened within 300 yards of their front doors. If they had been positively engaged with, their concerns properly given respect and real weight they may well have welcomed it. If they had been effectively shut out with a massive outline planning application stopping real discussion of detailed plans perhaps they would feel miffed. If that happened after long drawn out master planning exercises where promises looked like they were being made but were then reneged upon perhaps they’d feel peeved.
It all feels a bit underhand I suppose. Fancy naming your company ‘King’s Cross’, kitting out your private security in the King’s Cross logo, cherry picking the history boards you place along the development to exclude a proud history of community activism even making your Crimbo decs out of the letters K I N G S C R O S S? If it were you property development guys, if it were a leafy Surrey village, say Midsomer Parvey, this was happening to, wouldn’t those residents feel a tad put out, wouldn’t Sykes have a bark up?
It needed… No… it needs a gentle hand. Still. It STILL needs that. Even with the fabulous fountains and safer towpath. You see, back in the 80s everyone thought benefits from the wealth creating Docklands would trickle down to the neighbouring estates. Wrong, doh. Those neighbouring estates still number some of the most poverty stricken, disadvantaged places in the whole country. It’s arguable that the Docklands development made things worse, much worse in many cases.You see, a sense of place is much more than a theoretical thing. It has very practical effects.
Not actively engaging – and I mean REALLY engaging – shuts people out. In turn place design suffers. Those people that know in their bones how a new development could positively be introduced to existing communities are ostensibly ignored.
The fear is that King’s Cross the company is becoming King’s Cross the place. The name printed on the ordnance survey map will shift a little to the west, just like the entrance to the station has and with it will go all the benefits of ‘regeneration’.
For a previous article making some similar points see here.