It all used to be fields

We’re late to the Secret History of Our Streets documentary on BBC, but having read Owen Hatherley’s The secret history of sentimentality about two-up two-downs before we watched the first programme (on Deptford High Street) it was hard not get frustrated with the approach. In particular, the choppy editing and context-free presentation of the former planner as a ‘pantomime villain’ (in Hatherley’s words) and the floppy haired estate agent at the end, as well as the very vague use of the timeline, infuriated for all the wrong reasons. The valid empirical evidence about how inspections were either ignored or botched to speed up ‘slum’ demolition wasn’t countered by anything but anecdote, creating a wholly one-sided view of post-war planning as a deliberately malicious (or at best, hugely incompetent) operation. The coda – that the surviving houses are now worth vast amounts of money – simply highlights the fact that practically every centrally located terrace of 18th-19th century housing in London has experienced similar fortunes. In the period since the post-war estates were built, changing taste and shifting values has done as much again to re-shape the city’s communities.

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Related, London’s Hidden Modern Houses, a round-up of stealthy (and invariably wealthy) modernism sneaked in to the suddenly conservation-minded city. Actually, plenty of the houses featured aren’t so hidden – like Robert Dye’s Stealth House in Camberwell (despite its name). Paradoxically, much of this new modernism sits on or in the ruins or shells of the immediate past, the bits that no-one wanted (e.g. GTP’s Deptford Warehouse conversion, just off the High Street. Also related, a celebration of Victorian community spirit (do apartments in the Shard really have a sea view? A nice PR story – we suspect that you’ll be able to spot something like this with a powerful telescope on a clear day, providing it hasn’t keeled over).

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