Muf | icon 028 | October 2005

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Liza Fior I was born in N1 and I haven’t changed my postcode.

Katherine Clarke I came to London when I was 21 or 22, in ’81 or ’82. We’ve been working in this area for ten years, and what’s interesting is seeing the city change. When we arrived it was the end of the depression; the effect the economy has had on the city is incredibly visible in this area. There’s been an exponential change in the quality of the space, particularly in the last six, seven years – there has been a value given back to the public realm. There was a pleasure in the dereliction that we first encountered when we came to this area – it was ghostly quiet on the weekend – but there’s also a pleasure now to see how it’s changed and become a neighbourhood with its own particular qualities.

lf The fantasy of living in EC1 has extended beyond the architect and the artist to buy-to-let investors. But at the same time as that economic interest, which happened in other neighbourhoods in the late Eighties, there’s also been the investment in under-fives’ education. So there’s this coincidence of very different ambitions. Of course, if you’re on benefits you’re unlikely to go to Pret a Manger to buy your sandwich, but there are more people in the streets, which has changed the nature of the neighbourhood.

kc There used to be a little pub down the road called, I think, the Red Lion, which started life as a temporary structure, and it still is, but it has assumed a permanence as things do in the city. It used to be this horrible, dilapidated peeling thing with damp coming through the roof. And the estate has just been renovated and now the pub has been renovated and it’s this rather delightful space – they’ve taken a crappy thing and made it something that is a nice environment to be in,but the same people are still in it. It’s not like different people with different values moving in; I think people’s attitudes have followed the Labour government incentive to spend and care for.

lf But equally there is, just round here, an anxiety about the right to buy and the loss of social housing. Recently, I found myself in the gastropub that I had lived opposite ten years ago. This place that cost 35 quid to have dinner in is the same room that used to have a pool table and nothing … pork scratchings. The gain is that the food’s delightful; the loss is that the reason why that place wasn’t that successful was that it wasn’t only determined by economic necessities, so it had a pool table and Friday and Saturday night parties. What that’s been replaced by, generally speaking, is All Bar One, which is designed so that you can’t sit there for very long, and you drink as much as possible.

kc It’s experientially poorer.

lf This double vision I have from living here as long as I have means that I am sensitive to the fragility of the situation. That awareness of being in the midst of the change, we’re on a cusp.

kc There’s also been a recognition that social housing is a legitimate part of the city, and not somewhere that one skirts around, but somewhere that you can enjoy at the same time. I’m thinking of the Golden Lane estate, which in the period that we’ve been here has been refurbished. It was fairly scruffy when we first moved here, but it still was and is an amazing place. It’s a commitment to social housing written in concrete and stone and grass and water, and it has re-found its original loveliness. Despite the fact that most of those flats are now owned by architects, there are still a lot of counciltons living there as well, and it’s apparent which are the council tenants because they put flower pots out on their balconies.

lf Having children in the city means that the city is a different place. I look for children in the city: accommodation for them and yourself. In our working lives, being female has been both against us and in a small number of situations for us.

kc That mirrors the way the city does and doesn’t accommodate gender, in the sense that you are most vulnerable if you’re a young black man in the city, yet the perception of vulnerability is that, as a woman, one would imagine that you’re more vulnerable and you’re not. All of those experiences are what constitutes you as a person in the city. Gender is part of it.

lf It feels as if it’s got worse for young men. We’ve started employing a small number of men recently, and they’re the ones that come in with black eyes, which they get in east London, getting beaten up in various situations. I think there have been two murders round here in the last year, and both times they have been young men. That, actually, is the provision that hasn’t happened in this area. There are parks for little children, but how the city accommodates the 13-20 year old [hasn’t been figured out]. There is this place up the street, King’s Square, a hilarious example where they did a consultation and decided that people didn’t want benches. So they put in large concrete blocks like the things for keeping out tanks, and everyone complained because you can’t sit on them. This is the worst thing about consultation.

kc It’s not that they didn’t want benches, they didn’t want youth hanging around on benches. It’s the inability for the object to solve the anxiety, so they just took the object away but it doesn’t take the anxiety away.

lf Also, there was probably a questionnaire, and the question probably said, do you want benches or are you worried about people hanging around? That is a good little picture. It is about that wakefulness to the situation.

kc The things that I really enjoy in London are the moments of transition of huge areas of post-industrial dereliction. There used to be a fantastic one down where the Beckton power station was, which was amazing – it was where Full Metal Jacket was filmed. We used to make pilgrimages to it, and just hang out there; it was like a fantastic adventure playground, with these amazing buildings and there’s always parts of London that are like that and are transitional.

lf People take quad bikes there – not legally.

kc It’s the other side of Gallion’s Reach where the new Tesco’s is. There are plans to put a new bridge there. They razed the buildings for development. But you don’t need to go much farther down the Thames and there’s a whole stretch down in Barking Reach, where you can just crawl under the wire and suddenly there are these amazing derelict places. That’s what I like about London – the fact that there are derelict places and there always will be, that something will always eclipse the present.

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