In The Flesh (La Carne), the late Cuban writer Virgilio Piñera’s satirical short story, a whole town runs out of meat. After the vegetables, to which they resort in order to survive, threaten to go the same way as the meat, one of the village’s inhabitants happens upon a solution. Looking at his boneless buttocks, he cuts a slice off the left one and fries it like a steak on the pan. Little by little the rest of the town follows his example, including the mayor.
This tale came to my mind the other day when I read Rowan Moore’s excellent analysis on London’s urban self-cannibalism. Like Piñera’s characters, entering an inescapable circle of self-annihilation, some parts of London have got stuck in a commodification-focused hamster wheel. Believe me, even hamsters get tired and come off the wheel. Yet, Londoners are stuck in there.
Housing, the high street, pub culture, these are all victims of London’s new-found gluttony. A gluttony that is driven mainly, although not exclusively, by overseas investors. Whilst the city eats itself, the billionaire in Malaysia or Singapore invests on the “body part” that has just been devoured.
Let’s talk about London’s urban cannibalism. Let’s talk about the city that prices out its poorest to make way for multimillion-pound residential developments that cater chiefly to the hedge fund manager, the City banker or the football club owner. Let’s talk about the third-generation-run shop that is forced to close, not because a Mc Donald’s is replacing it (that is so 20th century) but because the area has been earmarked for “regeneration”; the dreaded word that heralds upmarket, boutique-like, hipster-influenced culture. No more flat caps, but ironic beards, no industries, but internet start-ups.
|A reptilian London|
London eats itself but does not digest its prey totally. It regurgitates it in tourist-friendly walking postcards. They are the artists that give the city its vibrancy and yet have to move constantly because their studios happen to be in much-sought-after prime “niche” locations. The sort of places that render a city – for instance, London – “authentic”. This authenticity then becomes food for the future investor who lives… in Thailand.
Piñera’s tale ends with the disappearance of a town and its inhabitants as they all eat themselves out of existence. I doubt London will vanish into the ether, although many of the people who make it the vibrant place it is will eventually fade into the abyss of forgetfulness, swallowed whole by the city that begat them.
Next Post: “Saturday Evenings: Stay In, Sit Up and Switch On”, to be posted on Saturday 18th July at 6pm (GMT)