Friday, June 23, 2017

A final stop: London!

We arrived in London during a period of temendous turmoil and sadness. The day before we arrived, a tragic fire had occurred in a London Council apartment, the Grenfell Tower, with what remains an unknown number of the deaths. Moreover, the Conservatives had lost their majority in the recent UK election, adding uncertainty regarding Brexit and the future of the UK economy and participation in the EU.
     One of my main purposes in going to London was to see two old friends; John Townsend with whom I had worked at Building Design Partnership in 1968/69 when I took a year off from architecture school and lived in Manchester; and Keith Tapping, the former Assistant Regional Director for CMHC who gave my professional career a great start by appointing me as CMHC's Special Coordinator for the South Shore of False Creek in the mid-seventies. Keith went on to become Regional Director in Ontario and BC before retiring. Many think it's a pity he didn't serve as President.
     I am often fond of telling the story of a particularly long lunch with Keith in the mid-80s, which involved more liquids than food. Around 4pm I suggested it was probably time for him to go back to the office. He said it wasn't really necessary. "But what if the President calls and you're not there?" I responded. "You could be fired!" Keith responded that the President would never fire him. He had promised his job to too many people!
    While in London I was struck by the many differences and similarities with Vancouver. The differences of course are obvious.  London is a city rich in history with very different streetscapes than found in Vancouver. There is also incredible wealth disparity; far more than in Vancouver which also has significant disparity between the haves and the have-nots. But it was overwhelming in London, as I watched the parade of Bentleys, Jags, Mercedes and very noisy sports cars in the city.
     The Grenfell Tower fire, so close to fashionable Kensington, highlighted this disparity, which was also apparent from looking in the shop windows....especially some of the shops selling children's clothes.
I couldn't help but wonder if the children of the French aristocracy were buying clothes of a similar quality just before the French Revolution!
The food floor in Harrods. Breathtaking displays of food that most Londoners will never experience.
I was told the average cost of a Knightsbridge residential property was 18 million pounds.
Wouldn't it be nice to see streetscapes of a similar scale along some Metro Vancouver arterials.

The similarities? Both cities are struggling with housing affordability. Coincidentally, while I was there Mayor Robertson was holding a Big Conversation for Vancouver residents to put forward their ideas to address housing affordability. Next week London Mayor Sadiq Khan is holding a similar conversation with Londoners. (When it comes to housing affordability, it seems politicians are keen to do whatever it takes to get votes on both sides of the Atlantic.)
We stayed in Park Mansions, just above the Buddha-Bar restaurant and club.
     Since we had the girls with us, and Sally's sister was planning to join us, we stayed in a large 3-bedroom Airbnb in a very good location. It was across the street from One Hyde Park, one of the most expensive condominium projects in the world. (The units came to market at about 6,000 pounds per square foot, and one unit reportedly sold for 140 million pounds. We were also above the Buddha Bar and next to Mr. Chow. It was very convenient. However, the building was undergoing a renovation and while very large, and featuring most modern cons, the suite was by no means luxurious.
     John Townsend suggested that we meet up with him and his wife Lynne at The Design Museum on Kensington High Street. It is well worth a visit if you are the least interested in design. (I was delighted to see that the watch we were both coincidentally wearing was included in a display of well-designed artifacts, along with my Manchester friend Eli Harari's SanDisk memory stick!)
John and I were both astonished and delighted to discover that we both were wearing similar Swiss Railway watches to that on display in The Design Museum!
   On Saturday I took the train to Deal to meet Keith and his daughter Jasmine. (Below are photos of them taken during an earlier visit, but they haven't changed much. Keith still wears yellow cords whenever I visit!)

As I travelled around England I came across a few images that highlight some of the differences between UK and Vancouver. See the next post for more photos of UK architecture.
One of the things I noticed was security cameras everywhere, which have helped solve a lot of crimes. Will this be the future Vancouver?
We stayed across the road from One Hyde Park, one of the most expensive apartment complexes in the world. Suites sold for 6,000 pounds per sq.ft. with one apartment reportedly selling for 140 million pounds.
There are a lot of eccentric people in the UK, including the fellow who built this houseboat in Deal Kent
A family gathering in the pub near our apartment

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