30 May 2009

Walk II: Regent's Canal east

So I went for a walk.

That map torn and battered, had it since the day I first moved here, guide and gospel to the city I at first struggled to like. Places I go most it gets tears, loses pages, each new friend and each new flat bequeathing rings on their pages, got to find that place again. But this low-tech doesn't work any more, Highbury, Lea Valley all changed but the drawings on the paper haven't - so time to draw back, write my own geographies on top of those already marked.

The estate's boarded up, condemned - but I've lived in worse places than that, those blocks last alright enough so what do they want to go knock it down for? Ah, the canalside got cleaned up no longer a rubbish dump but an amenity too good for social tenants. So knock it down, build it up, sell it to the middle classes at £500 a square foot. That's the capital.

[Skipping over Queen Mary university and all its Serious Architecture (as if in competition with London Met's Libeskind); capoeiristas in Mile End Park; an artic tern fishing in the canal; smell of salt air ahead of me unexpected and drawing me on]

Shiny yuppie stuff's back. Limehouse Basin a weird area committing the same residential-only zoning sins as NY. Nice, but too far from anwhere with there there, and nowhere to eat, so not actually nice at all. Wapping a slog along its cobble-lined uninhabited so-called High Street, luxury warehouse developments hogging the riverbank for theirs alone. We'll watch your BMWs in the basement garages flood when the Thames Barrier fails, just you wait...

Body aching just the sight of the water is refreshing; the sun after the cavernous closed-off streets a relief. The river is wide here, the birds and yachts maritime. I had not known this as my city before, and finding it has exhausted me.

But when she's this beautiful you forgive, don't you.

4 May 2009

Paint the City green

This gives me an idea: why aren't all cars covered in grass? Real grass, green growing stuff. What with poor air quality in the City thought to kill 2,905 people every year we need all the photosynthesisers we can get - and covering the key pollutor problem in its solution would seem to be particularly neat answer.

Front gardens are getting dug up to provide off-street parking and this increases the flood risk, as water streams off tarmac and into the sewers rather than soaking into the grass and soil. Lawns are being lost - so let's transfer them on to the surfaces that sit above the ground instead. The grass/herb/succulent-covered roof is a well-established concept, and living/green walls are not infrequently seen - for example this one below on a children's centre on Liverpool Road, Islington. These plants grow vertically, so why can't vegetation be fitted to the shape of a car? Ok ok, it's not exactly aerodynamic - but then again traffic in town rarely moves fast enough for that to be an issue. Lovely as a rooftop meadow of daffodils would be, low-growing sedums and maybe the odd bonsai tree would be more attainable. Seriously now, does anything stand in the way of covering cars in mosses and liverworts? Mould grows easily enough on aging sports car soft-tops, and we have the rain and pigeon shit to feed and water these things. Imagine the gorgeous colours, the deep greens and ochres and chartreuse, the velvet texture between your fingers, and cool cleaned oxygenated air for us pavement-dwellers.

Plants not paint! The revolution starts now.