I can’t imagine living anywhere else than here, in East London; I’m an urban creature, and could never live in a rural setting – there’s something ominous about wide open spaces and having neighbours that you have to actually drive to that freaks me out. It brings to mind those beautifully desolate Edward Hopper paintings and that old TV series, Twin Peaks, as well as the promise of menace I feel when I hear The Doors’ Riders on the Storm. Large, uninhabited spaces tend to infuse my over-active imagination with thoughts of the Bates Motel, so I am definitely not a country girl. Not by a country mile.
The countryside is beautiful, of course, and, as the saying goes, a change is as good as a rest. When I do venture out to greener pastures, I enjoy the feeling of the city falling away from my shoulders with each passing mile. It’s always good to get away, if only so that I can come back.
The Really Big, Stuffed-To-The-Sky cities like New York, Paris or Bangkok are high on my list of City Love, but London will always top my list. It’s a city like no other and it’s the love of my life. In fact, I’ve had a love affair with this place ever since visiting briefly at the age of six. Growing up in California, I never imagined I’d end up living here, yet here I am, and, nearly thirty years on, this is, and always will be, home.
Cities are full on, in your face, over the top and larger than life. A cacophony of people, cultures, buildings, sounds, smells and energy. They are “a rainbow of chaos” to paraphrase Cezanne. They can be overwhelming and exciting, all at the same time, and they never sleep. They are diversity and excess, and everything in between, all crammed together in a relatively compact space. Most importantly, they are a mass of interwoven and overlapping micro communities, each with a distinct personality, yet each firmly a part of the whole.
Retaining a sense of the past while embracing the new is one of the qualities I love most about East London in particular. For many who live here, there’s a fierce pride in that, as evidenced by the ongoing Save The Whitechapel Bell Foundry campaign and The Gentle Author’s delightful chronicles of old East London. We are fortunate that places like Sutton House, Dennis Severs’ House, Clissold House and Valentines Mansion are listed, and that the many neighbourhoods in the East End continue to retain their personalities with a mixture of old and new. But for how long?
Cities are like heartbeats; expanding, contracting, pulsating. Living in a city means you’re in a continual state of flux, always moving, changing and adapting. By its very nature, a city needs to evolve, of course, but that shouldn’t be at the cultural expense of – and certainly not the exclusion of – its inhabitants.
There’s a lot to be said for retaining the essence of a place, and who doesn’t agree that East London has Personality and then some? Let’s not lose that. We may not always succeed against those who appear to be devouring and sanitising the area, but we sure as hell won’t go down without a fight.
Karen ‘Kaz’ Ay
In addition to steering the good ship LoveEast, Kaz is a graphic designer. She’s passionate about print, music and football and is a volunteer DJ on East London Radio’s Saturday Morning Show.
Images courtesy of Todd Kavonic