Thursday, 17 September 2009

But of course . ..

From the South London news . . .

Should pink elephant be Southwark's Olympic Icon?

Southwark residents have been invited to choose whether their borough should be represented by the Elephant & Castle or Shakespeare's Globe in a set of souvenir pin badges to be produced for the London 2012 Olympics.

Maybe they should have a model of the whole shopping centre. Or the Heygate.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Deja Vu All Over Again.

From the Guardian:

It sounds like a fairy tale - until you get there. But now a magic wand is poised over the Elephant and Castle.

From the article:

'This is the week that the London Borough of Southwark sets about asking local people and businesses what they'd like to be done about one of the city's oldest shopping centres. The Borough has a pretty shrewd idea of what to do, but is asking all the same.

'The Borough. . . spurred on by . . . it's intelligent and indefatigable Director of Regeneration and Enviroment . . . plans to transform the Elephant into a "new landmark of urban and environmentally-friendly design: a development that could be seen as exemplary, worldwide."

'The emphasis here is on public transport and the linking together of many railway stations and bus stops that serve the area. They may also include working with approved firms of architects - not just developers' puppets, but those who will raise the standard of architecture here to the highest global standards. This includes new housing and the renovation of existing stock.

'The borough insists that it is not trying to turn the Elephant into a new middle-class ghetto or just another shiny downtown development . . . in raising it's cultural sights, however, Southwark must be careful not to undermine it's indigenous population . . . It is, at heart, a working-class quarter of London, made up of many creeds and colours. What it needs to do is find ways of engineering in the hearts of those who live and work here a sense of belonging to a new world in which they all stand to benefit if and when the Elephant comes into it's own.'

Sounds great doesn't it? The problem? The article is dated, '15 March, 1999'.

I hadn't realized it until I read this article - I was away from England for over 12 years until I went back in late 2007 - but the regeneration process has been in place for a decade. The original company pulled out not long after this article was written and the plan languished ever after.

Today, from LondonSE1: Elephant and Castle regeneration: Southwark Council leader 'cautiously optimistic' that a deal can be reached with Lend-Lease by the end of 2009. From the article:

"I am cautiously optimistic about the chances of reaching a development agreement with Lend Lease by the end of the year," Cllr Nick Stanton told members of the cross-party Overview and Scrutiny Committee at the town hall on Monday night.

"I've said before that if Lend Lease were going to walk away from this they would have walked away by now. They clearly have walked away from a number of propositions where they felt that the numbers weren't stacking up for them."

"They are still very interested in the Elephant & Castle. They are talking with us and we have been doing some financial modelling work with them. I'm told that that's gone very well."

If a deal isn't signed, what happens then? Does the estate just sit there year after year, falling into total disrepair? Or will the council demolish it, no matter what the cost, just to get rid of it? What then? A vacant lot that sits on the site for years afterwards, taking up valuable land?

Monday, 14 September 2009

Painting Moths on the Heygate

Big Brush of the 'Paint the Heygate' project gives a moving description of walking around the nearly empty estate. On the massive Kingshill Building (she calls it the Aylesbury here, but I think she means Kingshill), they find a council worker who shows them round. They find exactly one person left on the whole building, out having a cigarette on the empty terrace. "No comment" he says, as soon as he sees them, obviously marking them for press.

Will Montgomery's 'sounds of the elephant

Photograph: Dollan Cannell.

Will Montgomery is a sound artist who has posted some sound recordings made inside and outside the Elephant and Castle Shopping Mall. In an article for the August, 2007 issue of Painted, Spoken, he writes:
"I've never lived on the Heygate and I'm glad of that. However . . . one night I was knocked over on the Elephant's north roundabout. The impact destroyed the joint at the base of my left thumb, and the Elephant, like the fused thumb, has nagged at me ever since. . . ."
Then, explaining his interest in the shopping centre (from the same interview):
"What interests me now is it's sound. In the late 199o's, I began to admire it's peculiarly roomy, dreamy acoustic . . .in the shopping centre you get, of course, voices speaking many languages . . . But more important to me is the combination of overlapping human voices with piped pop songs. Often you catch some ancient love tune . . . floating by. Perhaps some of the more worn-down uses of the shopping center went for those songs once. For me, the romantic love hymned decades ago by these tarnished old hits tallies with the pathos that now marks the hopes of betterment expressed in the architecture of the area."
Further, he quotes Charles Dickens, and Walter Benjamin, writing about the Elephant, and mixes sound recordings of the shopping centre with pop-up photographs of the centre and the Heygate Estate. A nice testimonial. His site can be found at ''