A tale of two neighbourhoods

London is a city, architectonically speaking, that offers many interesting buildings but that is, also, very uniform. The same design recurs times and times again, all around the city.

Does this means that, no matter where you go, London will always look the same? No. The human geography of the city changes abruptly from borough to borough, even from street to street.

Yesterday I set off on a walk with the precise intent to demonstrate this; I started off in Chiswick and walked some miles westwards towards Hounslow, camera in hand. Here’s the photographic report of what I saw, under the form of a series of slideshows with accompanying notes. All pictures are in B&W just because yesterday I happened to find “Homecoming” by Don McCullin and I’ve spent the whole day thinking of being an actual photoreporter.

I know, how silly. But let’s get started, shall we?

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Chiswick is where I live. I like it immensely, for it doesn’t seem a big town at all, more like a smallish village where everyone knows everyone else. It’s got its difects, mind you – it’s annoyingly posh at times, property prices are spiking so high that I’ll soon have to move out, even the local reverends have gone to marketing classes and have sticked snappy slogans on their churches – but of all the places I’ve lived in London it’s my favourite.

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The new breed of Chiswickers, provided that this is a name, are following the same, well-tested path: a) move in by buying a ridicolously overpriced house; b) garnish it with a series of cars parked outside, possibly German-made, obviously high powered and preferably longer than the house itself; c) use them to go shopping at Waitrose, about 500 meters from where they live.

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If there’s one thing that Chiswick has aplenty, that’s green stuff. Parks and such are as common as coffee tables with copies of the Guardian on it, and Chiswickers use them (the parks, not the papers) with gusto. On weekends mornings the populace gets out en masse to play with their dogs and offspring, with only one rule: make sure to be wearing the most expensive and up-to-date sporting outfit you can buy.

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In terms of shops, Chiswick retail offerings can be summed up as: high end, usually fiercely independent (unless they’re part of a chain considered to be ‘hip’) and generally in touch with their clients’ likings: free range, local, multi-grain, fair trade, you name it. The demographics of the neighbourhood are peculiars as well: the average Joe’s obviously well educated, has a good job, is mostly white Anglo-Saxon or European (French, Italian, German). And if you see a veiled woman walking by chances are she’s a nun.

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Between Chiswick and Hounslow there’s a sort of no-men’s-land, Brentford, made mainly of the A4 flyover, building sites that one day will host car showrooms, empty office buildings and some dystopian-looking residential streets.

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My usual entry point in Hounslow is the A4 road, a quasi-motorway cutting the neighbourhood in two. We’re not far from Chiswick now, but we could well be in another country: homes look cheaply made, the sidewalks are awash with rubbish not collected for days and with dust not broomed away and cars are definitely not as shiny as in Chiswick. The demographics are also changing, something reflected by the food truck selling Halal shawarmas and tikka wraps. Above planes from Heathrow boom at low altitude, but no anti-airport banners are to be found: most of the locals work there.

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Hounslow’s heart lies to the south of the A4 and it’s much more lively than what can be seen by the big road. Shop abounds, as well as people out and about. Unlike Chiswick they’re mostly franchises of discount brands or minimarkets. The Asian influence is clearly visible, being immigrants from the Subcontinent the largest community in the neighbourhood. The mélange gets interesting and unexpected results such as the Irish pub serving Thai (authentic!) food.

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Hounslow’s High Street is particularly busy today. Incredibly enough it’s the only fully pedestrianised way I can think of, and that includes also Boris Johnson’s showcase downtown. Today a group of performers is staging a sort of tour of Great Britain through each place’s dances. A few blocks away it’s all quiet but for the occasional plane, until I unwittingly step into a Sikh wedding reception party, Rolls Royce drophead included. After that the road is clear for Heathrow: the tale of two neighbouring boroughs is told and I can start the journey home.

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