City and Self

CakeThu 2nd August 2018

I am back in my city. Having lived in three countries before the age of twelve and more than twice as many houses and locations in those countries, London is the only place I have ever called home.

The list of places in London that I have lived in the ten-year stretch of my twenties and now again at 42 is exhausting and exhaustive: Barnet, Waterloo, Leytonstone, Balham, Finchley Central, Colliers Wood, Hendon, Angel, Marylebone, Wandsworth Common, Peckham and, soon, Clapham Junction. I lived in and loved all of these places.

For me, a city – and London is the best (and worst) of cities – is a place that is characterised by the way (much like the self), that it holds so many contradictions. It is both green and urban, anonymous and friendly, commercial and creative. It is both optimistic and crushing, supportive as well as destructive. It is all these things and more.

In this intersection of so much life and the living of it, there is a creative force that can only be compared to a natural wild forest. A city is alive and supports and encourages diversity, as the forest does. Teeming with life both below the ground and up amongst the tops of the tallest trees, a forest and all its inter-connectedness reflects and is life as much as a city is.

I see the city as man-made forest: organic, teeming and vibrant with life.

At this moment in history, it is only in cities that difference can truly thrive. The city is the place where the different come together, where they seek and find support, where they care for themselves and each other. It is in London, amongst its art, green spaces and atmosphere of acceptance, that I am able to truly nurture myself. It is in London, amongst the groups, get-togethers and streets that mark out safe spaces, that I have found the people that can do that with and for me, too.

To see so much of the city lost to big finance and big foreign investment is sad and frustrating, but I am also aware that the city has always been marked and defined by change, and that this current part of the cycle is part of a bigger one. I am impossibly angered by current government policies that strip away libraries as well as other social and public services, but I believe that making the fight for these things public again will save them in the end. I have to believe that there is no bleak end to this, just more change, and I choose to remain hopeful and optimistic that that change will be for the best.

James Lovelock, author of various books as well as creator of Gaia theory, as well as other scientific visionaries, sees cities as a huge part of a sustainable future here on our increasingly suffering planet, and I tend to agree. Nowhere on earth is more accepting of difference, life and life force than a city and, while there will always be challenges and problems within them, I believe that the solution is contained within them too.