Public spaces that were once open to all are now the sole preserve of those with money in their pockets
“You have to pay for the public life,” wrote the architect Charles W. Moore in 1965 — a truth that resonates all the more loudly in our present cash-strapped times.
In the past month planning permission has been granted for a stand-alone café to be built in the precinct of St-Martin-in-the-Fields, one of the few spaces in London’s West End that is free of commercial activity.
Meanwhile, across the river at the South Bank Centre, a mooted revamp of the Hayward Gallery and the Queen Elizabeth Hall threatens to introduce more than 5,000sq m of food, drink and retail. That complex’s undercroft was originally planned as a site where artists could rent low-cost studio space. Now it looks likely to become a branch of Tesco Metro.
Given that 20 years ago it was all but impossible to find a good cup of coffee in London, the fact that much of the city centre now supports a lively, continental-style café culture offers cause for celebration.
However, the encroachment of commerce into every corner of the city’s public realm hasn’t come without cost.
Spaces that were once open to every member of society are now the sole preserve of those with money in their pockets. Emptiness has become a luxury that it seems we can no longer afford.
7 August 2012
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