It's always been true

Shoreditch, or East London Tech City, or Silicon Roundabout, has always been changing, like every other part of London, like every other part of every city.

At the moment, like many previous moments, it’s changing in a way that means the cost of commercial space is going up and people who have been there for a few years are already moving away. “This is sad,” they say. “Shoreditch isn’t what it used to be. It’s not what we made it. Different kinds of people are moving here and starting to enjoy the place we love but can no longer afford.”

This is true. But it’s always been true.

It was true a few years ago, when no one who was anyone yet tweeted, when those now moving out of Shoreditch first moved in.

It was true when I first worked there, for a few weeks in 2000, when the web was emptier and coffee was simpler.

It was true when I first saw Shoreditch, in 1997, from a cab driving east, with a woman who once worked at the Cantaloupe, one of the few establishments that survives through to 2012, but this year gutted, a deep cavern filled with workmen and power tools.

It was true in 1996, when Hari Kunzru wrote about the area’s “new media explosion” in Wired, and no one knew anything.

It was true in the 80s and early 90s, when the area was cheap enough to be home to the young British artists before they were fully capitalised.

It was presumably true in the late 1970s, or 1981, or 1982, when John Foxx set up his recording studio The Garden, where Depeche Mode, The Cure, Siouxisie and the Banshees and more recorded, and others still do today.

It was true in the 1960s when Mr Stewart started Wharfside Furniture and it was true when he was first apprenticed to a Shoreditch upholsterer in the 1930s.

It was true in the 19th century when the Great Eastern Railway first arrived in an area overcrowded with warehouses, printers, furniture makers, tailors and theatres.

It was true in the 16th and 17th centuries when those theatres first arrived, attracted by the area’s proximity to the up-tight City, just as Shoreditch’s clubs and bars in 2012 attract the suited and high-heeled from a few streets south.

When we complain about Shoreditch changing, about it being too expensive to stay here any longer, we are echoing the complaints and weary jokes of all the combat-trousered webmasters and the cocky conceptual artists and the serious synth-poppers and the upholsterers and tailors and printers and showmen who have been here before us.

Our presence has changed what we came for, just as the presence of those before us changed what they knew.

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10 Dec 2012 at Twitter

  • 9:19pm: @amcewen Good stuff, thanks Adrian.
  • 5:30pm: @holgate Yes. “Tech City” is only amplifying this particular change. I did write a bit about that but wisely trimmed 2/3 of the post.
  • 5:14pm: @holgate Or, there have always been points where the change is quicker, and so more painful.
  • 5:14pm: @holgate Yes, true. And it’s possible that the cycle is quicker now, and so the change is felt more painfully.
  • 4:39pm: @holgate I’m not even sure it’s necessarily a cycle in this case. Not just rich to poor to rich to poor. Gradually changing industries.
  • 3:28pm: @cavvia But saying “this complaint isn’t new, it’s a very old complaint” doesn’t mean it’s a bad complaint, or not worth having.
  • 3:28pm: @cavvia I don’t know if it’s been ignore politically. Maybe sometimes complaints about change have had an effect. I have no idea.
  • 3:16pm: @cavvia I fail to see what “discredits” a complaint today if it’s a complain people have always had?
  • 3:15pm: @cavvia I say nothing pejorative about people grumbling today. Simply that people have always been grumbling.
  • 2:24pm: @cavvia You said that I say no one should protest or complain about change. But I don’t say that (or its opposite). What tone do you mean?
  • 2:20pm: @cavvia Again, I don’t say there are never reasons to protest. Or that there aren’t now. Where do I say that?
  • 2:19pm: @cavvia You’re reading the “stop grumbling” into it. The message is “cities always change”. And, maybe, “don’t think now is special”.
  • 2:07pm: @cavvia Again, I’ve missed the part where I said we shouldn’t scrutinise anything.
  • 2:05pm: @cavvia Please point me at where I say that.
  • 11:24am: @rex3000 CONGRATULATIONS!
  • 9:44am: I wrote a little bit about the changing face of Shoreditch over the years, decades, centuries:…
  • 9:42am: @alanconnor The crank call industry must ensure it can robustly self-regulate or telephonic pranks legislation will be introduced.

10 Dec 2012 in Links

On this day I was reading