It occurred to me as I was taking an “overground” train this morning across London, from the southwest (where I am bunking in lovely Mortlake in the London Borough of Richmond) to the northeast in several neighborhoods in the borough of Hackney that I had no idea what I was riding. Was it light rail? New? How does it connect with or supplement the London Underground that I used in the 1980s and British Rail which I use from Mortlake? Turns out that this whole new system of rail (possibly light) has evolved in the last 10 or so years to connect the ever expanding and gentrifying neighborhoods of this city of 8.8 million residents.
The minute I stepped out of Shoreditch High Street station, I could see and almost feel the energy on the streets – bustling ethnic food stands and trucks, young people in all kinds of getups and many ethnicities sharing streets sometimes adorned with graffiti or lovely renovated brick apartment complexes, Middle Eastern and African Muslims and the occasional Orthodox Jew, pop-up shops selling handmade shoes, clothing, highly -curated home goods or kids stuff, cafes with gorgeous breads, salads, arancini (at Franze & Evans on Redchurch Street) cakes and small batch ice cream. So many entrepreneurs and independent shopkeepers trying to make a go of it. Lots of Allen and Carole Rubiners, my parents who dared to start an art gallery in a then-unfashionable suburb of Detroit in the 1960s. Is it any wonder that I’m drawn to these neighborhoods on the brink of change, to these people pursuing their passions often against the odds? (Story of my life actually…) Anyway, I walked myself silly, exploring quiet residential back streets and colonized commercial hip pockets in and around streets including Redchurch (near shoreditch station) and Columbia Road and Lauriston road near Victoria park. Along the way there were little surprises including an urban farm in Hackney and colorful houseboats along an industrial looking canal. I ended up all the way at Mile End Station and somehow got back to Mortlake via bus, underground, bus and aching swollen feet, to have Brazilian food at The Tapestry Restaurant near the house in Mortlake. Shoreditch/Hackney sure beats Covent Garden (today’s version….not the less discovered 1980s version) and glad to see London continuing to grow in interesting corners and ways.