I love Kieran Long’s piece on Brixton Market in the Evening Standard today. Not for at least two generations, he says, has any new commercial space been created in London with this much character. We are being served up, again and again, developments that makes a mockery of the City’s swagger:
The case needs to be made that despite the economic advantages of large-scale retail floorplates, every time we make the grain of the city less rich we lose something for good that is unlikely to be replaced. Public spaces should lead people to discover things about their town, allow the city to speak.
The malls that developers would like to create in place of these rich and connected places are more about choreographing our experience of the city, removing us from weather, noise, smells etc, in order that we become more effective shoppers.
No one could really claim Brixton Market to be a hive of effective shoppers – there’s too much chat; too much enquiry – but this is its success. Under those ceilings of miscellaneous height and colour and alongside those slightly cowboy canopies exists something that is vital. It’s called Funk.
Every time I turn into the haphazard flow of Atlantic Road – all polyester pimp suits and wet, florid pigs’ tails – my mind starts slotting my body into a zone that is part comfort, part perky alertness and always rambunctious like WOAH. Sometimes it’s dangerous – like when I’m not concentrating and almost get caught in the crossfire of dead animals being tossed from truck to butcher shop; or when the incongruous French traffic warden with the exaggerated accent tries to do me for parking offences – but it’s always UP.
It’s walking past that said Halal butchers, lit crystal-white, with bright red counters and a queue of people all lined up for their meat, heads nodding in unison to Dr Dre blasting out from in-house speakers. Or it’s a fingernail of a hole in the wall given over solely to the sale of sandals, or phone gear or Trini gospel. Inside the market layers of different kinds of people crash along together, united by the shared roof, the highly charged space. Inside the market you run the gauntlet of ancient old girls, with ruthless granny shoppers sussing out the banks of iced fish; or shouts from guys in white coats and white wellies, asking how you are.
The truth is, I’m always fine in Brixton Market and the lanes and streets around it. I’m fine because I’m feeling it. I’m bombarded by Reggae, dancehall, Raggaton, gospel; I’m hit by smells that taunt and tempt in equal measure and there is always something going on that makes me laugh, or else ask WTF?!
This is unedited life on the streets and it’s a circus that I cherish. I’m glad that it’s just been listed and that all that music and all that food and all those people will continue to be part of my daily London experience.