What’s the difference between Doncaster and Reading?

Published: 25 Jul 2003

Or what’s the difference between Chorley and Chelmsford?

Our characterless towns

Seemingly there is no difference anymore. All our towns are roughly the same: a clump of similar chain-stores with some houses round the edge and a supermarket or three (usually where the Library once was).

So, fans of civic pride, what does our culture do to combat this dismal uniformity? It builds even more clumps of chain-stores, but now in purpose build zones on the edge of town.

I’d like to pass a law tht makes it illegal to use the term ‘park’ unless you’ve actually created one, so friendly sounding ‘retail parks’ would be called what they actually are: pedestrian-unfriendly retail enclaves.

Anyone walking/driving round the Shepherds Bush area recently will have noticed the building work going on.  A vast brownfield site became free to develop and guess what they’re building?

A park? (are you kidding? You think they’d build a park in Britain?) A college? (nope, they don’t make money fast enough.) A museum then? (Nope, we’re no good at those. The Victorians knew how to build them but the secret was lost.)

A zoo? (Nope, it would be unfair to animals to make them live in Shepherd Bush.)  Then a stadium perhaps? (No way, this is London remember. We can’t build a footbridge and get it right.)

Well then something that will edify us, some architectural feat that will elevate our thoughts and illuminate the soul because, let’s face it, Shepherds Bush is pretty grim.

Wrong again. It can be only one of two things, since only two types of building are being thrown up in this country. It can be either one/two bedroom yuppie apartment complexes (made of cardboard and not suitable for families) or fuckinbigshoppingcentres.

Westfield

Just what Londoners need, more retail

British building expertise and vision extends only to these two things. Have a good look at the picture and see if you can guess which of the two it is going to be?

If, as Goethe said, architecture is ‘frozen music’, then this must be a big icy block of something by Michael Bolton. See you there when it’s finished – and bring your big S.U.V.  – there’ll be loads of parking.

This Westfield shopping centre is going to have the biggest Marks and Spencers in the world! Not the biggest theatre complex, not the biggest botanical garden. No, the biggest Marks and Spencers. Your souls may be destroyed by this building but you won t have to struggle to find good cotton underwear.

The site is being developed by the same guys who built the gargantuan piece-of-shit Merry Hill Centre nr Stourbridge, West Midlands.

Merry Hill, near Dudley

Here you will get 1,370,000 sq. ft. of chain shops, chain restaurants, chain gyms and chain cinemas. Around 5000 poorly paid retail jobs will be generated, millions and millions of pounds will be made and nothing of any significance will be given back to the community it will loom over.

Yes. Just what London has been crying out for: another shopping experience. I can’t wait because if there were not new ways to buy shit I don t need I might start to feel a bit pointless.

Mile after mile of exactly the same air-conditioned vendors you get everywhere else, in every town and city in this homogenised country.

Sacrificing our distinctiveness at the alter of JD Sports, selling out our heritage to Phones 4 U and Starbucking the independent trader off the retail map. Our finest minds decided this would be best for the area.

2000 years of society and culture and this is the best thing we could think of doing.

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