Year 2, Day 100 of My Photo Project, ‘The State of London’, Recording A City Gutted by Greed Since the Olympics

19.8.18

The latest photos from my photo project, 'The State of London', marking one year and 100 days since I first began posting a photo a day on Facebook.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.




 

Yesterday, August 18, marked one year and 100 days since I began posting a photo a day on ‘The State of London’, a Facebook page I established on May 11 last year, marking five years since I first began cycling around London on my bike, taking photos of whatever interested me. You can see all the photos to date here.

In the six years and three months since I began this photo-journalistic project, I have been out on my bike almost every day, cycling many thousands of miles across all of London’s 120 postcodes, and discovering that what interests me are the changing seasons, the changing weather, the River Thames and the capital’s other rivers, its canals, its parks, and my own idiosyncratic take on the built environment, in which I’m drawn to the old, the odd, the idiosyncratic, the run-down, the derelict and the abandoned, and also to social housing — the great post-war estates, currently facing an unprecedented threat from councils across the political spectrum, who, financially squeezed by central government, are entering into deals with property developers to demolish their estates and to build over-priced new developments from which almost all the existing tenants are priced out, an epidemic of social cleansing that is largely unnoticed by those who are not directly affected by it. 

When these homes are destroyed, social rents (generally set at around a third of market rents) are also conveniently wiped out, replaced by properties for private sale, for market rent, for “affordable” rents that aren’t affordable at all, being set at 80% of market rents, and for shared ownership, an alarming scam designed to fool renters into believing that they are property owners. To add to Londoners’ woes, housing associations, which have increasingly taken over councils’ housing role since the Thatcher years, have also been severely squeezed, and many have, in response, also joined the private property development gravy train.

Along with the destruction of social housing, the last six years have also seen an unprecedented land grab in general, with almost every empty building or undeveloped or abandoned piece of industrial land in the London area seized on by developers, and also subjected to a similar orgy of over-development.

The cumulative effect of all this is a capital that is now astronomically over-priced, with largely empty new tower blocks everywhere, their apartments bought by foreign investors but deliberately left empty, while ordinary Londoners struggle to pay exorbitant market rents in an unfettered market in which greed is dominant.

My entire photo-journalistic project has taken place under Tory rule, of course, as the Tories, taking advantage of the fallout from the global economic crash in 2008, returned to power after 13 years’ absence in May 2010, with the support of the hapless Liberal Democrats, and introduced a cynical “age of austerity”, bringing swingeing cuts to the state provision of services, and making life increasingly harsh for the poorer members of society.

Last June, the cumulative effects of cuts, profiteering and disdain for those in social housing manifested itself in the most horrific manner, when Grenfell Tower, a tower block in west London, was consumed in an inferno that killed 72 people, who died because safety cost-cutting and profiteering had been prioritised by those who should have been responsible for the residents’ safety, from central government, to local government, the management company appointed by them to manage their homes, and the various contractors, all of whom should have known that there was no excuse whatsoever for applying highly flammable cladding to a tower block, and, while doing so, fatally compromising the building’s structural integrity.

While the Grenfell disaster and the fallout from it has regularly featured in ‘The State of London’ over the last 14 months, the government has been dragging its heels coming up with money to remove insanely flammable cladding from other tower blocks (and, with Kensington and Chelsea council, actually re-housing the Grenfell survivors), although it’s worth noting that they can always find unprecedented amounts of money for huge vanity projects or infrastructure projects, like 2012’s Olympic Games or the colossal Crossrail project, currently nearing completion.

I was recently reminded of the pernicious effect of the Olympics, when Marian, a supporter of ‘The State of London’, wrote a comment on Facebook about how the “2012 [Olympics] and the build up to it was a sad time for London. The year rapacious greed got its way.”

In response, I wrote, “Yes, there’s a long history of the Olympics leading to massive social cleansing and insane land price inflation. It’s not an international sporting competition; it’s a massive establishment gangster racket.”

These are conclusions I reached at the time of the Olympics (see Our Olympic Hell: A Militarised, Corporate, Jingoistic Disgrace, in which I discussed how social cleansing and inflated property values are hallmarks of the Olympics’ legacy for host cities), but Marian’s comment powerfully reminded me of the significance of the Olympics, which has profoundly affected everything that has followed — “The year rapacious greed got its way”, indeed.

In a nutshell, the modern era of greed began under Margaret Thatcher, and the housing bubble that still plagues us began 20 years ago under New Labour, but the Olympics, with its colossal outpouring of nationalistic pride, provided an unprecedented boost to the Tories’ popularity, as well as cementing London’s status internationally as a super-cool city, and providing a perfect opportunity to maintain and even expand the capital’s fevered housing bubble.

Since then, the Brexit vote has dented London’s status, and if we actually leave the EU it surely cannot fail to inflict some serious damage on the housing market, but I can’t see anything on the horizon that can properly derail the Olympics’ effect of social cleansing and stratospheric housing greed, which, as I reflect on my photo project, has coloured the thousands of miles I have travelled over the last six years.

In conclusion, the last lines of my song ‘London’, written for my band The Four Fathers, seem particularly relevant:

London, you’re on a life support machine
In the basement of one of those hundreds of towers being built for a foreign elite
And oh my baby, I hope that you rise again
And throw off these rich parasites like you have every now and then
And I’ll keep fighting against the dying of the light
But without some kind of revolution the future doesn’t look too bright to me

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (click on the following for Amazon in the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from six years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of a new documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London.

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, The Complete Guantánamo Files, the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

5 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, marking one year and 100 days since I started posting a photo a day here on Facebook in my photo project, ‘The State of London.’ I actually started cycling around London’s 120 postcodes and taking photos on a daily basis back in May 2012, in the run-up to the London Olympic Games, and as I reflect on the project to date, I note how I’ve spent all this time fascinated by “the changing seasons, the changing weather, the River Thames and the capital’s other rivers, its canals, its parks, and my own idiosyncratic take on the built environment, in which I’m drawn to the old, the odd, the idiosyncratic, the run-down, the derelict and the abandoned, and also to social housing.”
    I then proceed to reflect on how much the cynical destruction of council estates and the unfettered rise of new and unaffordable tower blocks has dominated so much of the last six years, and how it was the Olympics, when my project began, that provided a major boost to this orgy of greed that, sadly, is making the capital unaffordable for more people than ever before.
    I think ‘The State of London’ reflects all kinds of aspects of this alternately amazing and infuriating city, but I’d be shirking my responsibilities if I didn’t acknowledge that largely unfettered greed, and the ever-increasing gulf between the rich and poor, mark a dangerous new status quo for the capital.
    Thanks to everyone liking and following ‘The State of London.’ If you’re not already on board, I hope you’ll join me!

  2. Tom says...

    Keep up the great work Andy.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Tom. Good to hear from you!

  4. Anna says...

    Hi Andy, producing a ‘central archive’ with quality pictures of the living London that was loved by its inhabitants and visitors alike and that now is rapidly disappearing, is of huge value. How sad it is, however, to realize that such a thing is already necessary as future generations will only have ‘historical London’ picture albums to show them what the human side of the city looked like. The Big Bens and other huge imperial buildings will remain, but they are merely backdrop, not real life. Real life are the little shops with their individual shop fronts, the terraced houses with their flowered front yards, the crooked lanes which suddenly offer unexpected views.
    I’m getting old, I suppose … (and so are you 🙂 ) – having computer problems I had to google you to get to your site and Google claims you were born in 1950 and now are 68 🙂

    So do keep up the good work and in the meantime I keep my fingers crossed that the growing opposition to Brexit will manage to stop it in extremis. In spite of this, among other abominations: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/jul/20/revealed-tory-donors-who-paid-7m-to-socialise-with-theresa-may.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Great to hear from you, Anna, and I’m so glad you’re enjoying ‘the State of London.’ I’m hoping to get my website of the same name up and running, and to make some prints and start showing them, but I seem to lack the time. Nevertheless, I’m proud of the archive, which now consists of tens of thousands of photos documenting the changes since 2012.
    I continue to hope that Brexit will be stopped. It somehow seems impossible that such a coup can be allowed to actually go ahead, when a major part of what we might call the British establishment is opposed to it not on flimsy grounds, but on the fundamental basis that it will be insanely destructive to our economy and our standing in the world.
    However, I see that the useless Theresa May is still peddling her nonsense today: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/aug/28/theresa-may-says-a-no-deal-brexit-wouldnt-be-the-end-of-the-world

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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