【Hackney & Urban Development in East London】


Blog 001. (English version)


This is my first blog post, so I will introduce myself, briefly.

I was born in Japan and moved in the UK twenty one years ago (as of January 2021).

The first half of my everyday life in London was mostly spent playing in some bands with some other related activities. But unfortunately, I had to change my direction due to a horrible finger injury.

I eventually got married, and then found myself a full-time job (not well-paid but just enough to keep things going).

The time has passed, and now I have got a couple of kids.

At the moment, I am trying out all sorts of things in order to update my obsolete brain (the disastrous outcome by having rejected every technological thing until recently) and to improve current household situation.

I have heard that writing blog will help you to develop yourself in many ways, thus I am hoping to get myself out of complacence and to grow into a person who can contribute to a society more or less…

Anyway, I will start with posting about general living information (I am going to write in Japanese mainly, however, occasionally I will try to post with English version, too) and see how it goes…


What sort of district is Clapton?

Clapton (London Borough of Hackney) is a district of east London, and is where I and my family are based.

Hackney has lately gained a good reputation described as “Home to young creative types”, “An area with strong community ties”, and so on.

However, until quite recently the area had been well-known as a “danger zone” with high frequency of youngster’s knife and gun crime that often resulted in deaths and injuries of innocent member of the public.

There was this dark culture called Postcode wars which was inter-estate rivalry among the local gangsters.

In order to avoid the danger of confronting it, pupils had to take hugely inconvenient route to get to their schools in some areas.

Especially, Upperand Lower Clapton Road which is running just behind where we live, were referred to as Britain’s “Murder Mile” due to the high number of murders committed in the area.

E5 Lower Clapton Road

In August 2011, just three months after I and my family moved into Clapton, the incident called “London Riot” occurred.

Following the death of 29 year-old man who was shot dead by police in Tottenham / North London, the protest was set off in Tottenham Hale, and it turned into a riot which was eventually spread from east London to south London.

Furthermore, having caught this news via SNS, the youngsters who had been constantly under the pressure of the power of the government and the police, copied the incident and the riots broke out across England including Manchester, Birmingham, and Bristol.

In my neighbourhood (Clarence Road), a number of cars were burnt, and shops were appallingly looted and destroyed…

Having read up to this point, people might think like… “Why did you move into such an area…?”

However, “such an area” was about to be changing in the wake of one event in 2012.

Urban development in East London & the legacy of London Olympics 2012

I mentioned earlier that Hackney, especially Clapton, had been a dodgy area. However I did not know much about what was going on in East London at that time.

When I moved into my wife’s (girlfriend at this point) student accommodation in Old Street seventeen years ago (2004?), the area was still full of warehouses and shabby old buildings, but with some sort of festive and vibrant atmosphere.

Youngsters were throwing parties and were holding special events every night.

New shops, pubs and clubs were appearing and disappearing,

…and there were great music venues such as Cargo, Rhythm Factory, 333 mothers, The Macbeth, 93 Feet East, and so on, to play. ( I was in the band at that time, so it was very convenient to live in the area…)

However, eventually, you started to see shops like Starbucks and McDonald’s appearing, market spaces getting replaced by modern buildings or expensive-looking flats,

…and in addition, the rent was soaring up… thus, in the end, we had to move out of the area and find somewhere more affordable.

We soon found one bedroom flat in the district called “Dalston” (two and half miles away from Old Street).

Compared to Old Street, the area seemed even more obsolete with uneven pavements and a quiet shopping mall… It looked like the area was just there for those who drop by the Ridley Road Market and pound shops.

And besides, there were these drug addicts and alcoholics regularly loitering and shouting in front of our flat… There was no bright image about where we had just moved in…

One day, I woke up and was about to head for work, but found that the gate of our flat had been cordoned off.

So I went back to our flat (1st floor) and popped my head out to see what was going on… Right next to our building, there was a policeman with a German shepherd aiming his rifle at somewhere behind our flat.

A bit worrying…

However, in less than a few years, we started to see articles saying like “Dalston! …youngsters’ new trendy spot!!!”or “Hot spot… Dalston!!!”

It sounded like total nonsense, but only for a short time until we started to see all these closed-down shops having been nailed with wooden boards since we moved in re-opening as bars and nightclubs one after another, and the streets were getting swarmed by party-goers.

Hence, we felt excited like “Hey, we have moved into an cool are at the end of the day! ” and started to join in the events and the parties.

However this did not last long…

The scenery during the day time was also changing with great momentum.

Old shops were swept away, and streets were getting paved neatly. Overground train station (Dalston Junction) was newly built while Dalston Kingsland stations was well maintained.

We saw the structure of tall building appearing around the station, as well as chain stores and individual sophisticated-looking shops.

And again, ….the rent was soaring up! Deja-vu…

During this time I got married and our first child was born. Therefore, taking this opportunity, we decided to move further north, to the district called “Clapton” (2011).

And in the following year, London was hosting 2012 Summer Olympics and Paralympics in Stratford, East London (only 20mins away by bicycle from Clapton).

At this point, we kind of started to realise what we had been experiencing…

Namely, we were in the middle of East London’s urban development plan…!

London is generally divided into West End and East End from The City of London as a central point.

While West End has got flourishing image with lots of historic sites and tourist spots such as Buckingham Palace, British Museum, Hyde Park, Palace of Westminster and so on, East London was originally poor industrial area with lots of immigrants are living in.

In early 1980s, Margaret Thatcher, the “Iron Lady” ‘s Conservative government created a special organization to redevelop Docklands in East London ( ex-industrial area where its business declined after the war / the area where The River Thames look twisted like a snake… ).

The effort was made to turn the area into an enterprise zone, however, because the government abolished London’s administrative body, the “Greater London Council” and gave its functions to the boroughs (1986), the development ended up with only limited areas such as Canary Wharf.

But in 1997, the Labour Party led by Tony Blair came into power, and set up the “Greater London Authority” ( new version of Greater London Council ) to revive regional governance body in London, and Ken Livingstone ( ex-leader of Greater London Council / an enemy of Iron Lady / I found some of his photos look like Jimmy Page-ish from Led Zeppelin? ) was chosen as Mayor of London.

He was the man who had made a good use of Summer Olympics in order to get a great amount of money out of the government to invest in developing East London. A real go getter! (He created Oyster card, too!) His beam attack pushed us all the way from Old street to Clapton!

Notable Olympic legacy which is still talked about after almost six years on since Conservative party gained full governing power, are the followings…

① The soil of the area where the Summer Olympics 2012 were taken place (now called Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park) which had been previously heavily contaminated due to a century of industrial use, was professionally washed.

② The conversion of the Athletes’ Village into housing for low-income earners and further development.

③ Westfield Shopping Centre! (biggest in Europe?)

④ London Aquatics Centre (a big swimming pool(s) 50m & 25m) designed by architect Zaha Hadid. (Our kids go there during the summer time.)

⑤ The Olympic Stadium, which was specifically constructed for Olympic’s track-and-field events, is now the home of West Ham United of the Premier League.

The area I had settled down with my family was accidentally in the middle of urban development… which is a good thing, I think… but hopefully we will be able to remain here this time…

ha ha ha ha…


👉 *Japanese version of this blog post