Dalston Square is special: it is one of the centrepieces of the on-going regeneration and gentrification of Hackney borough and East London. In terms of architecture and design, it is very in line with contemporary trends. Every week I have a brisk walk around the neighbourhood. As I go, I can’t help noticing a slew of new, contemporary estates that have sprung up over the past few years. They all look marvellously attractive and, like Dalston Square, have a contemporary ambience to their planning and aesthetic. Until recently these weren’t commonplace in East London.
Dalston Square was built near another new development, the Dalston Junction Overground station. Along with its much older sister, Dalston Kingsland, Dalston Junction has provided a revitalized link to the Underground network via Highbury and Islington’s Victoria line. More and more young families, professionals, and students are filling the living spaces here. To this extent, the Government’s plans for regenerating the east side of the city are bearing noticeable fruit. But more is needed to develop the software of regeneration.
…I pause in my optimism…
It’s all well and good to lay the basic infrastructure – the hardware, so to speak – because having enough affordable homes for both renting and buying is probably one of the most urgent priorities for our current generation. The C.L.R. James Library has also enjoyed a long-overdue and much deserved multi-storey upgrade. But I pause in my optimism when I recall what happened to a Greek friend of mine recently.
My friend was going to look at a flat in Hackney and wanted me to come with him. I remember it was only about 21:00, but the further we walked the more decrepit and neglected our surroundings looked; by the time we actually got to the apartment block, my friend looked visibly deflated and disappointed. The whole atmosphere was rather unfriendly, if not menacing. He turned to me and said, “I’ll probably let them know I’m not moving here”.
…this is unsustainable and we need a more thorough approach…
We are not bereft of intellectual achievement and potential in East London. My point is the opposite. The potential of so many is being stymied by the recession, yet we’re toted as the up and coming arts and cultural hub of London. We have Tech City as Britain’s answer to Silicon Valley, but somehow we are juggling that achievement with a staggering percentage of youth unemployment in the greater Hackney area. In the long term, this is unsustainable and we need a more thorough approach to education, community activities and building networks of hope. Perhaps it is economic, social, and personal difficulties that generate great ideas for art, performance, and dance, but no sane person would argue that misery and alienation are worth paying for good art.
East London deserves the regeneration effort that is attracting businesses and professionals of all kinds to pitch a tent here. But there isn’t enough being done to address the social problems that still plague so many people in the area, particularly the young. With so many cuts being applied to public sector services and charities or non-profits, I’m left wondering just how long we can keep up a regeneration that may not be able to be sustained by future generations.