Friday, 27 March 2015

London's Docklands: a case study in post-industrial revitalisation

On Monday I was in London for the International Food Exhibition at the ExCel centre, in the heart of London Docklands. I took the Tube to North Greenwich, on the Jubilee Line, and then crossed the river on the Emirates cable car service, which was launched ahead of the 2012 Olympics. Though lightly used by commuters, the cable car - which rises 90m over the Thames at its highest point - is a useful link between the O2 Arena south of the river and the the ExCel centre to the north. Below: the view looking north from the cable car. You can see a Docklands Light Railway train, beyond it the new Siemens Crystal exhibition centre - a extremely sustainable 'green' building.

Thirty years ago, Docklands was dead - killed by the containerisation of maritime freight. Tilbury docks downstream took over the role of London's commercial port. Eight square miles around the redundant Royal Victoria, Royal Albert, King George V Docks and the Isle of Dogs were redeveloped, and as it turned out, the entire scheme proved to be a splendid success. Today, London Docklands is a valuable extension to the City of London in terms of office space for the financial services sector; modern transport infrastructure - the Tube, light railway, new roads, river crossings and an airport have brought vibrant new life to the place. And there are thousands of new dwellings - some re-adapted from old warehouses, but mostly new-build. And restaurants, hotels, entertainment venues and exhibition space.

Below: from the north bank, looking south, a view more usually associated with the Alps than with East London. A casual glance at any map will show you how the Thames snakes around this part of the city; the more crossings - tunnels, bridges, cable cars - the better.

Below: the O2 Arena, formerly the Millennium Dome, built to see in the year 2000, now a permanent fixture on the Greenwich Peninsula. A popular music venue, currently hosting fading acts from the 1990s, 1980s, 1970s - and yes, the 1960s.

Below: the heart of the docklands. I used to come here often in the early-mid 1980s, before the redevelopment of the docks got under way. The old docks were a perfect film set. As well as being the location for Full Metal Jacket, 1984, and Terry Gilliam's Brazil, it was also the backdrop for dozens of pop videos. Today the cranes are still here, dressing a set rather than earning a living. Overhead, planes take off from London City Airport, redeveloped from what used to be King George V Dock.

Docklands still attracts the film makers. I chanced upon the rehearsal for the filming of the advertisement for the new Jaguar XF, which will be driven across the Thames. And all the while, planes are taking off from London City Airport.

With the silk covers removed, the car is still wearing its overcoat, to be taken off just ahead of its drive. (Click here to see the actual high-wire drive across the Thames.)

Below: homeward bound on the Docklands Light Railway, approaching Blackwall Station. To the left, the HSBC building. As the train is driverless, you can sit in the front seat, which offers a splendid view of the City's skyline as the train heads west.

Below: approaching Poplar station. The DLR is a light railway, characterised by sharp-radius curves, steep inclines and short platforms. In places, it feels a bit like a roller-coaster! Much of it was built along old abandoned track beds or on derelict land,

Below: nearing the City end of the DLR (termini at Tower Gateway and Bank). On the horizon three recent additions to the skyline - the Walkie-Talkie, the Cheesegrater and the Gherkin (the Shard is across the river by London Bridge).

The history of the regeneration of London's Docklands is worth learning from. Today, it's a given that the scheme was a success; back in the 1980s, there were plenty of doubts. Lessons for Poland: public investment spurs private investment, infrastructure kick-starts economic recovery.

This time last year:
Scotland and its language

This time two years ago:
Death, our sister

This time three years ago:
First bike ride to work of the year

This time four years ago:
Poland's trains ran faster before the war

This time five years ago:
Winter in spring: surely this must be the last snow?

This time six years ago:
Surely THIS must be the last snow?

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