In May 2014 I was asked some questions about living in Fitzrovia by a journalist writing for The London Magazine. The article eventually appeared here, while the full set of questions and my answers are below.
How long have you lived in Fitzrovia?
About 22 years.
How would you define it as a neighbourhood? What makes it special and unique?
An inner city neighbourhood struggling against gentrification. There are people some of them in their 80s that have lived here all of their lives. It has a good sense of community and a very low level of car ownership. People from all over the world have come to live and work here. There are families with young children here. And of course we have our own neighbourhood newspaper, Fitzrovia News.
What is your favourite place/venue/building in Fitzrovia and why?
Lots of interesting buildings, a variety of Georgian, Victorian and 20C architecture. It’s a great place to explore especially on the weekends when it is a lot quieter than in the week. We are fond of our own building, the Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Centre complete with its mural on the outside wall by famous mural artist Brian Barnes.
Is it a very mixed neighbourhood?
Yes very mixed. What a lot of people don’t realise is that most people living here rent their homes — about 70 percent. The rich live cheek by jowl with people in modest rented homes. There’s a large Bangladeshi community, Spanish, Greek Cypriots. There’s a Welsh Chapel, Anglican churches, Catholic church, a synagogue, a mosque and some more fringe religious places.
How do you feel about schemes and developments like Fitzroy Place, Rathbone Square and the Charlotte Street redevelopment of the Saatchi and Saatchi building?
The demolition and construction works are a nuisance and lots of people are complaining about the noise and dust. Too often Fitzrovia is described as an oasis but it is very unpleasant at times with all these developments just because land values are high. These three large developments are giving very little in return by way of affordable housing and public open space. And the large restaurants planned will cause traffic and other nuisance. Fitzroy Place is looking pig ugly. The only thing of beauty is the Middlesex Hospital Chapel hidden within the development.
I am sure you have various concerns about these schemes but do let me know if they have had any positive knock-on effects too?! For instance, as I understand it the Rathbone Square post office site was actually rather unlovely with a huge car park out front, a bit of a scar on the landscape…
The former Royal Mail delivery centre on Rathbone Place provided employment and the parking area in Newman Street may not have looked pretty but it was not a blight on the landscape. It was a working delivery centre and the parking area for delivery vehicles provided some relief from some of the taller buildings in the area. In Rathbone Place there was a war memorial to the workers of the postal district who died.
Are you worried that these larger high-end schemes may change the quirky, independent oasis-type feel of Fitzrovia? And drive poorer people out? Out of all the schemes which do you think has been most sympathetic to locals, in other words which developer has handled relations with locals the best?
Poorer people have already been driven out. Some priced out by rising rents, other just evicted and their homes sold. There have a been a couple of smaller schemes where the development has provided a mix of housing and with little disruption. The Crabtree Place development provided private expensive housing but also delivered affordable rented housing. A larger scheme at Ogle Street has provided mostly affordable housing but it is a shame they had to demolish a similar sized building to do it. Far too much wholescale destruction is taking place.
What do you think of the community fund Derwent runs? I understand Fitzrovia News got a grant too! How much did you get? Is this an ethical problem for you given that it might make it harder for you to be objective?!
It is about time Derwent London gave something to the community it profits from so handsomely. Fitzrovia News did not get a grant. But the Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association (which also publishes Fitzrovia News) is pleased to receive funding for a women’s health project. It’s not an ethical problem as the grant does not interfere with its work. It just funds a certain project and we are grateful to Derwent London for funding the project as we have said here. It does not affect our work responding to planning and licensing applications, other consultations or our editorial in Fitzrovia News.