Apr 28, 2008

London You’ve Changed

It had been more than three years since I last stepped foot in London, a city I once knew well. In that relatively short time there has been major changes. I don’t find the changes surprising so much as how quickly they took place.

--London has never been cheap, but the cost of living or traveling there is now astronomical. Sure the value of the dollar has gone the way of Monopoly money in recent years but I’m talking about inflation. As an example the cheapest single ride tube fare in 2006 would have cost you two pounds sterling. Today that same ride will cost you four pounds ($8.00). London’s public transport is now the most expensive in the world. This photo of an HSBC ad campaign taken in the bowels of Heathrow Airport sums up the cost of living.

--The iconic Routemaster double decker buses have been replaced with a redesigned modern version. The Routemasters, produced in the 1950s and 1960s, were phased out on all but two routes in central London, which are frequented by tourists.

--Many Mom and Pop shops have closed and been replaced by chain stores and coffee franchises. I’ve seen this happen in New York City in recent years. Real estate values have risen to record levels and so have rents pushing independent merchants out of business. I only had a little time to wander in London but noticed this distinctly in Notting Hill. Some of the vintage home furnishing shops I loved checking out on regular basis, for example, have bit the dust.

--A large Eastern European community has emerged following the expansion of the European Union. What’s unique about this group is that many won’t necessarily immigrate to the U.K. They will work in the U.K. for a few years, where there are far better wages and employment opportunities, before returning home. In some respects they are the new migrant workers, skilled and international.

--The best part of Camden Market, The Horse Stables, has been demolished (more on this later).

--There is construction everywhere due to the real estate boom. The global credit debacle has already started to slow this down.

Some things were exactly as I left them:

--The local lives. Pub culture is still alive and well (but smoking is no longer allowed).

--The extraordinary amount of languages you hear when walking down the street.

--The tube stop closest to where you need to go on the weekend will no doubt be closed due to track work. A bus replacing the route will turn a 15-minute journey into an hour-long odyssey.

--London cabbies are the best in the world but at a price (see above).

--My old neighborhood Little Venice hasn’t changed a bit (more on this later).

3 comments:

itinerantlondoner said...

That tube fare cost is only true if you pasy cash - it's only £1.50 ($3) if you use your Oyster Card, and I believe these are available for visitors too. The cash fares are deliberately set very high to persuade everyone to switch to Oyster.

I'm also not sure re. your comment about the Eastern Europeans being temporary migrants - that may be their intention, but post-war european history is full of intra-european migrations that were meant to be temporary but ended up being permanent once people were settled in jobs, had made friends, and crucially, had children. (Such as the Turks & Yugoslavs in Germany). There's evidence that's starting to take place in the UK and that's a good thing I think, not least because you can now get loads of varieties of great Polish sausages in most small grocers shops in London now!

Other than that though, as a Londoner you're pretty spot on with your views, the pace of change in London seems faster now than it has done in my 15 years living here.

Wendy said...

Hi Itinerant Londoner,
Thanks for stopping by and for your comments. I believe seven day oyster cards are available for non residents. I was only there for a few days and opted for a 1 day travel card zones 1 and 2 which set me back GBP 5.30.
I'm with you on many Eastern European immigrants will end up staying permanently planned or not. But from everything I read in the U.K. press and saw on BBC the sentiment seemed to be that a large group would only stay for a few years, which is perhaps different from past immigrants (the South Asian community comes to mind) as the EU has made cross border live/work easy. New York is a melting pot and I also appreciate the cuisine and communities from many lands.

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