A version of this article was originally published in the New Statesman.
Two years after the riots, a tsunami-sized wall of cash is heading towards Morning Lane, a shabby thoroughfare in Hackney.
The local council secured £5m from the Greater London Authority’s regeneration fund for areas affected by the riots and it is being spent on a project costing tens of millions and called the “Hackney Fashion Hub”. Fashion outlets, a café and design studios will be housed in two new seven- and five-storey buildings and 12 railway arches located opposite and adjacent to the old Burberry factory, which has attracted busloads of Japanese tourists since it opened as an outlet store in the 1990s.
The developers are the Manhattan Loft Corporation, “the company who brought loft living to London” and whose recent projects include “67 of the most unique apartments in London, on the top floors of the Grade I-listed St Pancras Renaissance Hotel”. The architect is the trendy David Adjaye and work starts in 2014.
As well as big-brand fashion salesrooms, the development will include design studios “where locals can show their work”. The stress is on the word “local” and the council is keen to persuade us that this project is not just to attract tourists and investment from the Far East.
So we, the locals, should be over the moon about it, shouldn’t we? I spoke to Lia, who lives in Hackney and works at a vegan, volunteer-run café on Clarence Road, a focus of the London riots. She knew nothing about the development. But some local people do know and are into their designer brands – as the discerning young men who looted the Carhartt outlet near London Fields showed in 2011. Perhaps this is why David Adjaye’s shops on Morning Lane have massive, futuristic-looking riot shields on the front. I asked Adjaye Associates about them and got this reply: “No, those are simply shutters; all shops have shutters on them. They are shutters that cleverly also function as rain shields.”
Hackney Council claims that the new hub will be physically integrated with and encourage visitors to go to “other areas of Hackney” (such as the betting shops and pawnbrokers on the Narrow Way) and “new signage” will encourage them to do that. But in reality it is separated from Hackney Central by the bus station on Bohemia Place, while retailers on the Narrow Way in central Hackney, a site of rioting, are excluded from the party.
They are somewhat disgruntled. So the council has painted bright geometric shapes on the road outside their premises. “Next week we’re getting some pot plants,” said Ayub, who owns a local clothes shop. “They’re trying to kill us.”
So everyone has been catered for: the underclass in the ghetto of the Narrow Way and Clarence Road; the Chinese, South Korean and Japanese visitors in their parallel universe of tourist wealth on Morning Lane; and those who can afford the new flats on Chatham Place. If the shopkeepers still feel dissatisfied, they could participate in a scheme the council has set up called Hackney Is Friendly; it’s a “place to find a friendly face on the Narrow Way. Come in and say hello if you’re passing.”
Hackney Council, who commissioned an artist to commission the image above, where forced to withdraw after local campaigners pointed our that it depicts and entirely whitewashed version of the street.
Ngoma Bishop of the BEMA Network which led the call against this image said: ““The image revealed Hackney’s transformation into a borough inhabited almost entirely by young white people. The diversity of the borough has almost completely disappeared and the different communities, cultures and people of all ages and abilities have been replaced with white children and cyclists.”