London Lantern

Putting the Spotlight on London

An American's Thoughts On London

20/02/2002, By David McIntosh

Reader Rating: 2.9 from 15306 votes

London is a city that seems to grow younger with each visit. By that I donít mean in demographic terms but in the since that in recent years London has experienced a revitalization and renewal that, in turn, has resulted in a feeling of newness and surprise, even for past visitors who may think they know all there is to know about the capital of Great Britain.

The city that started out as Londonium under the Romans, and was once the hub of a worldwide empire, by the 90s had been christened the "coolest city in the world."

I first fell in love with London as a boy in the mid-sixties, but the city in my memory while historic and exciting was also slightly grimy look-parts had a run-down look, it had only been just over twenty years before that Londoners were fighting for their survival. Most of the buildings, if not black, were a sort of battleship grey in colour.

The Second World War had ended only twenty earlier and sections of the city still awaited their turn at redevelopment and renewal. Visits in the 70s were to a city that was beginning witness new construction and efforts at sprucing up older buildings but the wear of the years could still be seen.

My most recent visit to London was to a city that, even in the winter, literally sparkles; historic buildings have been cleaned, they gleam in the sun. There is new construction all around. Parks are being replanted as they prepare to welcome spring in a few months time.

Todayís London is a city that has been and continues to be engaged in a process of spruce-up and renewal that has resulted in a successful blending of the old and the new.

Probably the best known example of Londonís revitalization is the Docklands area. Until the 80s the Docklands were another example of urban decay in search of a solution (although some development had taken place at Isle of Dogs). In that decade beginning with the Canary Wharf development, the entire area underwent a transformation that has turned it into the one of the leading corporate business addresses in Europe.
Another example, less dramatic, but noticeable nonetheless is, believe or not, the underground, the oldest mass transit system in the world. Construction on the current underground network started in the early 20th century.

By the 70s the tube was starting to look bedraggled and while problems still persist, the extension of the system and the new Jubilee line as well as the refurbishing of older stations has given the underground a better look than it has enjoyed for years. Some of the newer stations, notably Westminster on the Jubilee line (only the best for MPís), compare quite favourably with newer mass transit systems such as the Metro in Washington, D.C. or MARTA in Atlanta.

Speaking of Westminster, the Houses of Parliament no long sport the dark grey look so familiar in the past. The grey, almost black, appearance celebrated in countless movies and photographs is no more. A night Parliament appears almost gold when viewed from the London Eye, another new and worthwhile addition to the cityís attractions. A number of other sections have undergone a rebirth. The neighbourhood around the Imperial War Museum as well as the area around the Tower of London are examples of sections that have experienced noticeable improvement.

An overall view of the many changes is afforded those with the stamina to climb to the top the dome of St. Paulís Cathedral, Sir Christopher Wrenís masterpiece in the City of London. For many years the tallest building in London was the Post Office Tower (now the BT Tower) microwave antennae perched atop the cylindrical structure. Vying for attention was the National Westminster Tower.

Now the view from atop St. Paulís is one of continuing construction, though London, unlike most other cities, has wisely decided not to enter the contest to see who can gather the greatest collection of tall buildings reaching for the sky.

The result is that there is still a feeling of openness to London that many big cities lack. None of the claustrophobia of New York, Chicago or even Atlanta. Another factor contributing to the open feel are the number of world-class parks providing plenty of green space, which also gives London a human and humane air.

If you havenít visited London in recent years but plan on doing so soon, be prepared, much has changed even while much has remained the same. The result however has, for the most part, been positive.

The outward impression is of a city that is again treating its past with respect while looking toward an even brighter future. London is again, a city enjoying the springtime of its youth.

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Re: An American's Thoughts On London

By OH, London 04/03/2002, (Rating: 2.9 from 14570 votes)

Excellent article, but construction on the current underground didn't start 'in the early 20th century'. It actually began in 1859 with the first two lines (Metropolitan and District) opening in stages between 1860 and 1869.

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Re: An American's Thoughts On London

By David McIntosh 05/03/2002, (Rating: 2.9 from 14359 votes)

Thank you for pointing out my error. I had been aware that construction of a mass transit system had started in the mid- 19th century but didn't connect that with today's Underground. Again, many thanks.


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