London’s Brick Lane & New York’s Lower East Side

I’m back from an invigorating week spent in London at the dawn of spring.  My first reflection on the trip attempts to capture my perception of a sense of ambition I felt throughout the city.  On my first visits there, in the mid ’90’s, I was struck most by London’s long history and its apparent veneration of that rich past.  Of course I am now 20 years older, and so is the city, so perhaps what I noticed on this visit was due to my own changes in perception.  Or, because I’m a New Yorker now and I wasn’t then, I appreciate the energy with which large cities continually reinvent themselves.

Half a day spent in the East End around Brick Lane and Spitalfields Market on a rare sunny morning first lead me to think about the city’s aspirations and to draw direct parallels to my own city, in particular the Lower East Side.

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In all four of these shots, old vs. new plays a part. The street painter’s stunning image is covering countless others that preceded it on a building that has been there for 200 years or more.  Even more ephemeral is the What if art ruled the World? scrawl just down the block, as the building itself shows signs of multiple reconfigurations.  Walking through Liverpool Street station it was clear to me that this was a place reinvented, but I did not know at the time the station had overcome 3 distinct explosions over a 60 year period.  Finally, the Jamme Masjid Mosque which resides in a building that was a church in the 18th century, a synagogue in the 19th and then became a mosque in the 20th, sends its gleaming, 21st century minaret skyward.

 

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A three-story bird painted on Brick Lane made me wonder if the artist also had worked on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, a neighborhood with cultural parallels to the Spitalfields area of London, and another place that seems to be constantly evolving. Both the Lower East Side of Manhattan and the East End of London are gentrifying or have gentrified, but clearly neither neighborhood has lost its spirit.

For every flashy, ultra-modern symbol of aspiration: think London’s Shard http://www.shardldn.com/wp-content/uploads/the-view-from-the-160955101.jpg

or New York’s One World Trade Center: https://www.wtc.com/about/buildings

There are countless other examples of human ambition at the individual level alive in both cities, building on what came before.  May it continue to be so, with spirit!

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