From Tech City to City Gardens: the slow death of Shoreditch

About 2 years ago, I was making jokes and designed a tote bag when the government announced its Tech City program. I didn’t imagine that what would actually happen was that we would start to see the type of confused political interest that has led to proposed changes in planning laws.

Maybe it’s because during the Olympics politicians were invited to an area of town they wouldn’t have been caught dead in previously. Maybe on those trips to Old Street they realised it’s full of nice post-industrial buildings that would make for the types of fantastic loft spaces they experience in New York. Maybe it’s because they compare Shoreditch to the City and think that housing would help liven it up during weekends. Maybe if they’d lived in Hackney, they’d understand why they should just leave it be and stick to the initial plan to support startups and a tech community not give bankers a chance to live 10 minutes away from work.

One of the many reasons why Shoreditch works for startups is precisely its crap, badly heated, badly connected post-industrial buildings that don’t cost a fortune. That’s why there was an industry there in the first place right? And also everyone’s here, for now. (I’m already starting to hear of friends and colleagues relocating south of the river or even more east, where prices aren’t crazy.)

Clean Shoreditch up and you end up with the cultural desert that Old Spitalfields Market suffered after it was renovated in 2005. Building for the sake of building is all very well for the rich, middle eastern investors or bankers, but really for startups, your lowest overhead should be rent, otherwise, well you’re not a startup.

I won’t even mention other tenants of Shoreditch in the arts, design, fashion houses, fashion schools, illustrators, galleries. I thought we’d established that fashion alone accounts for 1.7% of GDP and creates 800K jobs. Do these political men and women think fashion happens in residential areas? Didn’t think so. I wish Sam Cameron would pipe up on this issue if anyone should as a supporter of fashion and creative industries. Anyway, I digress.

That the area is getting international interest is great, for that to affect real estate was always going to happen, but really in these proposed planning changes, the only people that will suffer are precisely the companies the government wanted to support.

Thanks Dave & Eric.

Love, Shoreditch.

By designswarm

Blogging since 2005.

1 comment

  1. The planning thing is a red herring for most of London – GLA and most Local authorities are arguing for an exemption from the office to resi rules. They will also get it. Different issue in emerging tech and creative hubs across the country though. Quite likely to get obliterated by new housing.

    There’s a bigger point, though, about the dead hand of government in supporting or stifling organic innovation. And also the age-old question of culturally led “regeneration”.

    Unless government subsidises rents and/or does not allow asset owners to make profit from their buildings, places will go from being cheap, grotty and edgy to expensive, palatial and mainstream.

    Government can be both the problem and solution. By anointing the area with a moniker, foisting a taskforce and scattering a few (and only a few) £ you accelerate this process and lose the genus of what you wanted to promote.

    On the other hand, govt can work to safeguard buildings (how the fuck that awful hotel will be built at the foundry I’ll never know)by setting up supportive planning rules, take the freehold on “creative” buildings and areas, and set some (and I mean few) ground rules about what the market can do. Hackney Council is trying to do some of this at Hackney Wick, which, to my mind, is much more exciting than Shoreditch or Dalston.

    I may be misreading you but it seems as if you want government to keep its hands off so that it doesn’t stifle the area, at the same time as being hands on in saving the opportunity for creative businesses to set up.

    PS – Agree that Spitalfields Market is a prime example in how not to do it

    PPS – Love the tote bag, will have to get one. Can you also knock up a ‘Dalston has jumped the shark’ one

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