Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Greenwich: A Shopping Guide

Greenwich, much like many other places in London, is a town of contradictions. High rise sink estates are nestled between leafy gardens and double-fronted houses. Tracksuited teenagers sit next to well-heeled professionals on the buses and trains. What makes it different from any other area of urban development in the city, is its historical importance.

Its astrological, royal and maritime legacy is enough to make it eligible for the starry accolade of an official venue of the 2012 Olympics, but the steep hierarchies of personal income are all too visible to anyone who strays from the town's neatly gentrified marketplace. The niche boutique shops and provisions for yummy mummies hide the surly underbelly of the town, where graffiti is spattered over derelict houses and status dogs are paraded down littered streets.

It's all too easy to suggest that the influx of affluent residents in search of an easy commute to the greedy metropolis of Canary Wharf would improve the quality of life for all Greenwich residents. But the clear divide between rich and poor serves to magnify the poverty seen in the east end of the high street. Convoys of yummy mummies in 4X4s and smarmy bankers flashing cash in microbreweries don't make the abandoned office buildings any more pleasing on the eye. The cost of housing makes even less sense when one passes the site of Greenwich Hospital. The concrete building, once a vital service to thousands of people, was demolished in 2006. The enormous site has remained boarded up and empty.

But, away from the hordes of day-tripping tourists and school groups idling around the Observatory, yet not so far from the inexcusable urban decay, there is hope. Trafalgar Road is rumoured to be the most polluted road in London, but beyond the toxic fumes of the trundling engines is a strip of shops to put any generic high street to shame. Polish and Italian delicatessens stand next to Afro-Caribbean hair salons, authentic meze kitchens, independent motorcycle shops and old-school launderettes.

Thanks to nationwide homogenisation, a list of the commercial outlets in a town wouldn't usually be cause for much interest. It could even be tasteless to suggest that the average high street represents or adequately provides for its actual surrounding community. However, east Greenwich's shopping parade is an emblem of capitalism at its most mutually beneficial. It's also the signifier of realistic diversity we rarely see in London.


This piece was originally written as part of a job application.

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