May I draw your attention to Infinite Thought's recent and highly successful metamorphosis into a mordant photo-blog (London, Trieste, Ljubljana): particularly the brilliant series on North Greenwich and Bluewater. In Derek Jarman's The Last of England (clip) North Greenwich is one of the two main locations, along with (on the direct opposite side of the Thames) the vast, desolate Royal Docks. In the baffling cut-ups, montages and superimpositions Jarman builds up a post-apocalyptic picture of a zone of paramiltary activity, summary executions, atavism returning to the blasted sites left by the simultaneous demise of Fordism and Social Democracy. In one moment, the carcass of a factory beside the North Greenwich gas works looms into view while a deafening chant of 'SIEG HEIL! SIEG HEIL!' echoes through the chaos of the film's sound design.
North Greenwich has become a moderately successful tabula rasa - certainly the 'regeneration' is proclaimed a success in the New Labour mailout that came through my door the other day. All is subordinated to three seemingly conflicting projects: the botched proto-eco town, Millennium Village (fourth phase nearly ready, young professionals!), no less than three strip-malls, and of course the Millennial Dome, or the O2 as we must now call it. Anschutz knew what they were doing. Pack em in, lowest-common-denom, Take That, Spice Girls, Tutenkhamen, some restaurants on 'Entertainment St', bosh. The Dome hasn't become a Zone because it makes no concessions to any notion of the public sphere, won't have to beg for government funding unlike all those 2012 monsters in ten years time.
Yet around the area, unlike in the Isle of Dogs - London's most complete, most terrifying example of the total erasure of a place's past as a place of proletarian work and a place of desolation and blight - industry holds on, in strange depopulated pockets. The gasholders and silos you can see in I.T's photos, or the remants of the Angerstein industrial rail line. One photo taken in the 1890s shows the Angerstein line as a prophecy of Metropolis, its lines whizzing and criss-crossing straight into and through buildings. Now it's distinctly subordinate to the Alsop Jubilee line station processing people into the greying teflon tent, with its Grand Theft Auto deco decor. The gigantic arena has, hurrah, 'worked', but the echoes of Jarman's machineguns and stormtroopers are faint but noticeable.
What Jarman could have done with Bluewater. The actual shopping centre isn't nearly as terrifying as Sinclair and Petit's London Orbital implies: a generic large mall with bizarre psuedo-historical dressing and a baffling attenuated Crystal Palace at the front, surprising only to those who never leave Hampstead or Hackney. What makes it so unnerving is the way that the site is scooped out of an old quarry (ah, the creative re-use of industry), so that the shopper is surrounded on all sides by a motorway at an unreachable height. Bluewater is a camp waiting to happen. Suddenly Jarman's vision of a future London is quite plausible, given the right political impetus - a fusion of Belmarsh and Bluewater into a gigantic carceral space, with the cliffs around the shopping centre trimmed with razor-wire and flanked with snipers.