Giving a talk on October 25th 2017 at the Frobisher Rooms in the Barbican Centre, ‘Sir’ Nicholas Kenyon pitched the City of London’s Culture Mile with a hard sell that ignored most of the issues raised by this rebranding. Kenyon claimed that with the completion of Crossrail people would be pouring into Farringdon and Moorgate and nearby arts institutions had to make them welcome. Throughout his talk Kenyon assumed that more tourism in the City was both inevitable and to be welcomed. It felt as if Kenyon was unable to look beyond the end of his nose and wasn’t aware of ongoing anti-tourism protests in southern Europe, which even the UK media widely reported this summer. Residents of Cripplegate and neighbouring Islington wards (particularly Bunhill, home to LSO St Luke’s, which is involved in the Culture Mile) may feel the area is already overcrowded and take the view that drawing additional tourists to our neighbourhoods is destructive. Apparently such concerns are completely off Kenyon’s radar.
The Culture Mile project to date doesn’t amount to much, as Kenyon’s speech revealed yet again. Beech Street tunnel will be revamped, the Museum of London will move to a new site in Smithfield, and the resultant vacated premises offers a development opportunity. What Kenyon and the City want to do is demolish the current museum site and replace it with a classical music concert hall. Kenyon’s pitch for this was chauvinistic, he claimed London had fallen behind not only other world cities that had better classical music venues than we did, but even other urban centres in the UK. Viz, London must have a world class classical music venue! Such bigoted ‘logic’ does a disservice to both London and the wider world. London doesn’t need to be as good or better than everywhere else in everything, it just needs to be itself. Why not let Birmingham or another city have a superior classical music venue to London? There is already far too much centralism in the UK, and in the interests of democracy and fairness we need to stop making London the measure of everything in England. A new purpose built concert hall for Sir Simon Rattle’s London Symphony Orchestra in the Culture Mile is a bad idea and would be a poor use of resources.
Kenyon offered a fake choice between a quarter of a billion pound concert hall on the old Museum of London site and an office block. There are many other options. The money would be better spent on building much needed homes for Londoners where the vacated building stands; or millions of pounds could be saved for other uses by deploying the existing structure to house a different museum.
Top (header): Beech Street tunnel, current focus of the Culture Mile! Middle: Anti-tourist message. Bottom: Anti-tourist sign.