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These days I live and work in the suburbs about half an hour’s train ride from Central London. As a consequence I only find myself “in town” once or twice a month which gives an interval just long enough for me to observe the changes. I used to enjoy going into London but nowadays I always come away feeling like the place has died a little since last time I was there.

The problem is not, as with so many places, a lack of money; I think it’s the opposite. Too much money. Over the last few years there has been a huge influx of Russian and far-eastern capital. This has coincided with many of the Central London land-leases coming up for renewal and now so much of the city centre is seeing wonderful atmospheric little streets and neighbourhoods ripped apart and disfigured by huge glitzy and expensive developments that can only be afforded by the super-rich.

The places where I used to go after work are disappearing. These are the places where the quirky people, the writers, artists and thespians went. Indeed these are the places where the creatives and the innovators exchanged their ideas and developed new technologies; the places where every young newcomer and student would go to be part of the great London experience. They are fast disappearing to satisfy the immense appetite for development opportunities for the super-rich. Cool London is being crushed by a great golden steamroller.

And I’m sorry to say the super-rich are never cool. Ever. To be cool; to lead in fashion and industry you have to improvise and try the untried. If you can afford whatever you want, whenever you want it, you never need to do this; you follow fashion rather than shaping it. Cool is for the upcoming lower and middle classes. And these groups now find themselves locked out of London entirely by astronomical prices. London was always expensive; expensive but manageable. Now it’s becoming out of reach to all but the very richest.

I watch with sadness as the little nooks and crannies I used to know so well in Soho are trampled over by big money. Every time I go there I find another block where I sheltered from the rain or ate a late-night kebab has gone and been replaced by a new development of executive apartments. The sex workers and the gay scene seem to be beaten back at every turn; often with the assistance of the authorities. Their workplaces and venues closing down in the face of rocketing rents and “gentrification”. Other neighbourhoods are experiencing similar destruction as the groups that gave them their image are forced out by people who think you can buy that image through an address.

In my twenties London was the only place to be and I enjoyed it. I lived in hovels all over the city: Bayswater; St John’s Wood, Brixton and New Cross before moving out to the suburbs in search of more space. Back then my most fashionable peers were hanging out in Dalston and Hoxton. I went to some brilliant house parties there. It was a place they could afford; they made it trendy which then priced their successors out. Previous generations did the same with Islington and Notting Hill. Now it seems there is nowhere left to go.

But there is. Now I mix with people who have children in their late teens and twenties. Those kids still go off to university and do all the things we did and like us they want to go to the most fashionable and vibrant places. There is a new up and coming place where they all seem so keen to go and live. A new place to colonise and make fashionable. What is the name of this latest miracle neighbourhood? It’s called Manchester.

We’ve seen it before of course. Back in the early nineties Manchester was the place to be for its music scene but nobody barring a few diehard ‘Roses fans actually wanted to move there. Most of those bands came down to London as soon as they found fame. But this time it feels different. There doesn’t appear to be any discernible musical movement behind this change. It was the BBC going there that seemed to start the move; other media companies have followed taking waves of young trendies with them. As they decide to stay on and make their lives there in the sort of flats and localities they could never dream of affording in London, they will develop the culture and encourage more to follow and Manchester will boom. Why would anyone come to London when you can’t afford to live here? The city where tacky gold-plated identikit champagne bars are replacing the fabulous, dingy little music venues, comedy clubs and late-night cafés so beloved of previous generations?

I hope, as a northerner of sorts, that Manchester’s boom will spread to neighbouring cities and that transport investment happens to back it up. There is so much potential up there that has just been sneered at by southerners for too long. It would be good to see the boot on the other foot at last.

As for me? As a forty something I have a growing desire to leave London. It’s lost its buzz. It isn’t what it once was (I bet every generation says that), but now to my surprise I see my peers leaving too. They go to get better schools for their children and cheaper offices for their start-ups. Many only make it to Cambridge or Brighton but even so they have left London and moved elsewhere. Their places taken by yet more rich investors with bursting pockets on a quest for gold-plated, diamond encrusted, ostentatious naffness.

London will always be a world city but it is fast detaching itself from the nation that made it.

 

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