I read something once about real estate developers and how they can privatize the public domain with architecture. It was so insightful and profound that, of course, I immediately forgot who wrote it, where I saw it, and six of its nine points. But the rest came back to me when I went to Battersea and surrounding power station for the first time since the tube opened there.
First, give the impression of intense surveillance; cameras and security guards, of course, but also panoptic street layouts, an absence of cutouts, alleys or alternative routes. Anyone who does not belong will immediately know that their membership has been ascertained. Not having money is, of course, the safest way not to belong.
Then introduce a sense of precariousness by making sidewalks and driveways slightly too narrow. Generate alienation with slippery or shimmering or somehow off-putting materials – lots of marble, slanted angles, infinity fountains. Make it clear, if you can, that cars are more important than people – perhaps with elaborate turning circles, but no crosswalks.
I already had a problem with the development of Battersea because of its metro station. It will sound like a niche complaint that would interest a Londoner on its own, but stick with it and you will also find yourself overwhelmed with violent resentments wherever you live.
The Battersea Power Plant Tube, as well as Nine Elms, can be found in zone one. Fine. Someone wants to sell a bunch of new build characterless off plan in the investment market, of course they have to be in zone one. Except that it completely shakes up the geography of South London. The tube map, perhaps the best explanatory graphic design work the world has ever seen, has been tampered with to make much more central places – Kennington, Stockwell – look further, because they have to be. : see, they are in zone two or at its borders.
So all the signs were there that development would look like a plastic playground, completely disconnected from the reality of the city, defended against that reality by the strategic stimulation of deep unease towards any non-rich who might stumble upon it. A new dormitory town for the international super-rich, Mr. Z called it. âIf I were to live here, I would become a full Maoist. “
I was about to go in for more details, as I had no idea he was even partially Maoist, but we were distracted by a beefy, milk-fed jogger coming from behind who hissed at him. move away. “Excuse me?” Mr. Z said, and the guy walked past grumbling, “Thank you.” “No!” Said MZ âIt wasn’t that ‘excuse me’ kind of thing. It was the Oscar Wilde kind, it was the bow, questioning ‘excuse me’ out of indignation. As in: “Excuse me, could you have been so rude or did I dream it?” “”
The strange thing was that the jogger, even though he was in too much of a hurry to observe normal human courtesy, was not going so fast. It was the brisk walking speed. The road stretched for yards and yards, the better to watch you, proles, so we’ve been following him for ages, heckling. âThe reason you shouldn’t hiss at humans,â I added, âis because we’re not dogs. “I think you might be the rudest man I’ve ever met,” Mr. Z said crescendo.
He didn’t care. A horrible thought occurred to me. “Do you think he’s wearing headphones and can’t even hear us?” ” ” Oh my God no. It was my best indignation. “I didn’t see anything in his ears.” “He probably has a wealthy person’s headphones on, which are invisible to the naked eye.” “Would it be fun toâ¦ chase him away?” Turns out I buried the jogger trauma that insulted my daughter when she was five. His crime? Walk at the speed of a five-year-old. Maybe it was the same guy.
“I would,” MZ said. “But the sidewalks look pretty slippery.”