The City suffers the same kind of problems as Canary Wharf in terms of that contemporary necessity – a sense of place.
Professionals march swiftly from Office A to Office B via Coffee Shop C and then quit the area altogether at the weekend, leaving a ghost town. The buildings tend to cater for those inside, turning their backs on the streets. And both are twinned by a capitalist urge to make money, not a bohemian quest for soulful nourishment.
Canary Wharf has attempted to soften this hard-edge with a programme of cultural events throughout its many open spaces. And now the City is following suit, launching the Culture Mile, throwing open the doors of its world-class treasures and helping people around the impenetrable hub.
At the launch, Lord Mayor Dr Andrew Parmley, a former music teacher himself, said: “The arts are not what people think of when contemplating the Square Mile, the No.1 financial centre in the world, but business, banks and big bucks are not the be all and end all.”
The Big Five have come together to push forward this 21st century cultural outreach. They are the City of London Corporation itself, the Barbican, The Guildhall School of Music and Drama , the London Symphony Orchestra and the Museum of London.
Two new enterprises may form the most visible symbols of a cultural renaissance – the Museum of London’s proposed move to West Smithfield and, in turn, the hi-tech Centre For Music (taking the museum’s vacated London Wall home). Both are long-term and complex projects relying on the ability to raise funds.
In the meantime, the Culture Mile – between Moorgate and Farringdon – will see better signage, more attractive streets, a Beech Street spruce-up, family festivals, pop-up treats, walking trails and not forgetting a 10-day celebration to mark the arrival of Sir Simon Rattle as the new music director of the LSO in September.
Museum director Sharon Ament said: “I’ve got a frisson of anticipation about the liberation we’ll enjoy when we’re able to live in the streets of London. At the moment I feel constrained in the museum. We meet each other on the streets and I’m looking forward to the in-between spaces being places where I see creative projects popping up as a result of collaborations.”
Sir Nicholas Kenyon, managing director of the Barbican , said: “We want [our Barbican activity] to be visible and engaging and we want it to spill out on to the streets and offer more.”
The Culture Mile has not descended out of the clear blue sky. The City of London Corporation acknowledged that Crossrail was a driving force behind this enterprise which policy chairman Catherine McGuinness predicted would be “transformational”.
Farringdon, three stops on the Elizabeth line from Canary Wharf, will put 1.5million additional visitors within a 45-minute journey of the area from December 2019 and a 30-minute journey time to London Heathrow. It is likely to become a major transport hub, like Liverpool Street, bringing more curious visitors from the West End.
The other major project that has, necessarily, informed the thinking is Brexit.
Ms Ament said: “Think about all the cultural destinations that have been created in London over the past 200 years – think about Trafalgar Square, Exhibition Road – all been at time when Britain has felt confident. So I feel that the Culture Mile is a show of confidence. It’s about being proud of who we are and our cultural output – and that’s a really strong message to the world.”
Sir Nicholas said: “Crossrail is very much a spur in the positive sense but Brexit has given us an added sense of urgency to demonstrate that London is still going to be a world city of culture. Over 70% of visitors come to London because of the cultural heritage so we need to build a new infrastructure for the 21st century.”
Ms McGuinness said: “There is no doubt that the Culture Mile will send a signal to the world that London is and always will be a welcoming, open and resolutely internationalist city.”
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