Cities sublime: beautiful but terrifying. I felt this the other day on emerging from an unexpected exit of King’s Cross, when I was trying to find a friend’s office. I was somewhere I’d never been before-not in that form, anyway. The transformation of an area of rundown sheds is so comprehensive that there’s a viewing platform for the public to marvel at it. Children in swimming trunks – they’d evidently come prepared-ran in and out of water jets squirting up from the floor of a courtyard. Old street signs had been taken down, new ones not yet put up. The office I was visiting overlooks a canal, lined with houseboats. It seemed a refuge of cosiness after the epic scale of the construction works.
But King’s Cross is just one of London’s new quartiers. What planners call ‘big footprint buildings’ are trampling over Victoria; I can’t say my heart leaps at the thought of seeing these aggressively blocky structures when completed, but there’s an excitement in seeing so many going up together.
The Nine Elms site, on the south side of the river, runs from Battersea Power Station to Lambeth Bridge. Parts of it are now thick with cranes. The city I used to know, with its forgotten pockets of scruffiness-a London that wore shabbiness with pride-is trying to become Singapore.
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