Shoreditch twats: not quite as bad as property developers

This post is a response to readers’ input to the open newslist

Daniel Davies mocked this guy, as having placed his bets on Camden staying deeply cool and missed out on the migration east. But he has a point.

Our startup moved to Shoreditch in 2008, making us a relatively early one although not first-generation. (That said, big telecoms infrastructure has been there since the late 1970s. Not long ago, I looked around a new data centre that was built in the shell of…an old data centre from 1978.) Over the next few years, I had the impression that some sort of final, definitive wave of money had been kept from rolling over the place by the crisis. There was already plenty of super-priced wankiness, but it hadn’t taken over and you could still just about find useful cracks to get into.

The (lovely, Ken Livingstone-inspired) Overground rail route was apparently meant to be surrounded by air-rights development, but that never happened, with the odd result that the area immediately around seemed to be reset to its role back when it was cool, before us computer-diary strivers showed up.

The mildly legendary Foundry was acquired for an “art’otel”, squirm now, but they couldn’t find the money any more and nothing happened. After a while, some of the people who would later occupy London occupied it as the Shoreditch Social Centre, painting the message carefully on the windows. Later still they were evicted and the whole thing covered with adverts, but the owners still can’t find the money, and as a result the ads have been torn down, the anarchists’ signage ironically revealed, and the space offered to (inevitably) artists. Again, in my time there, the crisis seemed to pause it all for some years.

Similarly, the planned development north of Exchange Square, over the railway lines, never happened and allowed odd things like a giant golf driving range made entirely of precarious scaffolding to sprout. Now, though, the Papermill pub (a poorish imitation of Berlin, but to us a cherished office boozer) has been demolished, leaving only its glass brick frontage (let’s hope they’re not saving the facade). The range is gone. The whole area is threatened with some sort of godawful banker facility called “Principal Place”. This is bad news; I always liked the clarity of the urban distinction running along that street, between the City and the city, as China Mieville might put it.

Now, even our landmarks are threatened. The nondescript building that housed the Tech Hub, across City Road from Inmarsat, is going to be replaced by something called, with a kind of Putinesque irony, the White Collar Factory. The City Arts & Media Project next door is already gone. The building behind, first used by the Home Office and then Occupy, is gone. The building next door to us (and Pachube) that was lovingly re-graffitied every month and used by all kinds of odd people, gone. The Watermark Club, a cabbies’ pub just up the street with sensible prices and weird 80s video games, gone. Actually somebody saved that machine and moved it to the Old King’s Head across the street, but it’s vanished from there now. The couriers’ base at the corner? I wouldn’t bet on it lasting. You get the picture.

XOYO still looks ok, but the industrial building round the front that used to be the Classic Car Club (yes, I know) is up for sale. Even the tube is in on it. Quite a few of the shops in Old Street station are out, one’s now a pop-up this, and I wouldn’t give a penny for the rather good bookshop’s chances. That said, they’ve painted it up in exciting new colours, as far as I can make out the only thing the Tech City Investment Organisation has actually achieved other than putting up the rent. The weasels are closing in.

And now, our landlord is getting shaky, which is hilarious because our building seems to have been put up or much restored in the 90s with a view to .com tenants (fibre in the basement, Roxys-reference name, generators out the back, glass bricks).

Perhaps the highest stage of capitalism is actually property development, not imperialism, which is altogether too risky. I’m beginning to reconsider whether there isn’t something in this Georgism lark after all. You say, well, this is just the whining of a gentrifier getting gentrified in his turn. But it’s Eric Pickles who’s the threat to the council estates just north of Old Street. Watch out!

5 Comments on "Shoreditch twats: not quite as bad as property developers"

  1. So our little business bounced around some cracks in Clerkenwell and never made the move to Shoreditch. Basically we’re priced out of both for now and operating from really temporary setups.

    I particularly think it’s a shame because many small offices sit for months, sometimes years, empty as owners wait for some magic moment where someone comes along to pay an inflated price – presumably buoyed by increasing capital gains and the loopholes in taxation on empty commercial premises…

    The expansion of the City is odd, because you hear that Canary Wharf is growing again. Mind you, then you hear about the plan to join up The City with CW by creating a development corridor along Commercial Road and you wonder – is the financial sector really going to be that big?


  2. Our startup moved to Shoreditch in 2008, making us a relatively early one although not first-generation

    You young people. I was working for a tech/media startup just down the road from there in 2000. We had share options and eccentric management and a fatally flawed business plan and everything.


      1. No, because (I am pretty sure) this was pre-Britney. All we had in that line back then were the Spice Girls. (Ask your parents.)


    1. Pah, I went to see a Virtual Reality company called Virtual Presence in Corsham Street (not far from The Roundabout) in, I guess, 1992 or 3.


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