one too many
one too many COSMOPOLIS, BELONGING, SHOPS, SHOPS
LONDON W12 SHEPHERD’S BUSH CULTURAL IDENTITY & URBAN BELONGING IN THE COSMOPOLIS
In the last three decades, urban planning alongside urban design, landscape architecture and urban sociology have seen the surge of a significant - and largely predicted - issue: the place identity. The impact of cultural globalisation on the urban space has risen a debate about the consequent loss of distinctiveness of both the overall identity of the city, at a landscape level, and the specific identity, at a neighbourhood level. Nowadays the urban place is often created or transformed by urban planners and designers in direct contact with the local communities, making use of public meetings, surveys and participatory designs; the aim of the modern, cosmopolitan urban planning is that of shaping the neighbourhood identity in harmony with the meaning that this retains for its inhabitants and users and its geographical, architectural and social context. But what makes a city distinguishable and easily identifiable? A relevant role is played by the cityscape as seen with the skyscrapers of New York, by single monuments or buildings like the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Faisal Mosque in Islamabad, and also by natural features such as the Mount Vesuvius in Naples or Table Mountain in Cape Town. From a closer point of view, a city can be identified the world over by its districts and streets and by the residential, recreational or commercial neighbourhood character. London despite being a city with roots dating back as far as the Roman Empire, owes its architectural identity to the continuous replenishment of constructions that gave and - with Renzo Piano’s London Bridge Tower “The Shard” being only one of the latest additions - still gives an innovative personality to the English metropolis. This statement is particularly valid when it comes to analyse the characteristics of London’s cityscape, dominated by the skyscrapers symbol of the financial powers that rule the City, but it proves weak when confront-
ed by the majority of the residential areas, where Victorian and Edwardian architecture still represent and characterise the streetscape. Shepherd’s Bush in west London stands for a coherent example of London’s neighbourhood character. The majority of its buildings are an expression of the late effects of the Industrial Revolution and its consequent housing boom, and only a few relevant exceptions can be made, such as the 2008 ‘Westfield London’ by Architect Jason Forbes, one of Europe’s largest shopping centres, and the older ‘West 12’, again a shopping centre located opposite to its more recent counterpart. The failure of London County Council to bring a successful renewal of the suburban areas during the 1920-30s to follow the process of tertiarisation had and still holds, to a certain extent, consequences on the architecture of the neighbourhood. The presence of other modern buildings, perhaps a formal and visual alternative of the often heavy classicism and repetitiveness of the already mentioned dominant styles, is however an effect of punctual operations of demolition and rebuilding; what changed the identity of this area in the past decades is a phenomenon that London shares with many other urban realities and that here shows its significant impact on the aesthetic of the streetscape. The cosmopolitan influence given by the significant presence of various communities - Somali, Afghan, West Indian, Polish, Syrian, Lebanese, Iranian and the smaller Irish and Australian communities - has determined the flourish of a consistent number of independent shops that serve mainly the local ethnic minority communities. However the competitive spirit of the city and the lack of specific regulations led, like in several other areas of London, to the disappearance of traditional English business activities in favour of a multitude of shops that due to being so often similar to one another in target and traded services, drastically reduce
the independent commercial variegation offered by the area. This process paradoxically exposes the very same shops - with their colourful facades and their cosmopolitan nature that determined a mutation of the neighbourhood character - to the dangers of the hardly predictable impact on the long run of the shopping centre ‘Westfield London’. Therefore the urban identity of this area taken by this book as an example, seems to be detached by the stagnant formal architectural elements and by the geographical and cultural context in which it develops: the absence of a specific identity becomes identity itself, mirror of the city’s multiethnic soul and summary of different cultures. The clash between the Victorian nature of the suburban areas and the cosmopolitan colours and activities well represents on a smaller scale that visual clash and variegation of different ideas proper to London’s cityscape.
Bibliography Denny, B. (1995) Hammersmih and Shepherds Bush Past, London: Historical Publications. Neiill, W. (2003) Urban Planning and Cultural Identity, Routledge. Relph, E. (1976) Place and Placelessness, Pion Ltd . Sica, P. (1978) Storia dell’urbanistica. Il Novecento, Bari: Laterza . Savage, M (2004) Globalisation & Belongin, London: SAGE Publications Ltd.
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