These towers may have been designed to be a city neighborhood extended upward, but they don’t feel like a neighborhood. In the two months I’ve been here, I’ve often been struck how little contact people make with each other. There isn’t even the cautious (or furtive) appraisal ghetto residents make of each other in New York – there is just this sort of blank. A family went by the night I was looking out on the fog and even the kids hardly registered my presence. And they live right next door.
Sometimes, when I walk home down New Kent Road at night, looking up from the ground at the vast bulk of the building, I can’t believe I live in a place this vast. It’s like approaching a drydocked aircraft carrier from the keel, wondering how you’ll ever get up on deck and what on Earth could be going on in the upper levels, far up on the gangways with the rows of yellow lights.
The building has so many occupants you hardly see the same people more than once or twice a week. Just this morning when I was waiting for the lift, some old man with a big silver ring on one finger, a gnarled, polished cane and a fedora got out, helped along by a slightly younger woman. I’d never seen either one of them before, but from the way they carried themselves, hardly looking around as they stepped out of the lift and into the street, and murmured at each other in their south London accents, I had the sense that they’d been on the estate for years.