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London: East vs West

It was recently suggested to me that it might be nice to show what my life is like here (aside from the parts that consist of staring blankly at computer screens). I’ve also decided to try weekly posts (look for me here every Tuesday!), so it made sense to write today about the two spatial areas that have really defined my time in London.

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Dots represent all of the places I’ve been to in London. Graphic by Mimi Onuoha. Click to enlarge.

To the left is a map of all the spots I’ve been to in the city. The part I want to focus on today is that cluster of dots in the middle, or more specifically, the East-to-West path they form. Most weekdays find me taking two tubes and a bus to cross the sprawling city in order to get from my homely flat in East London to the Royal College of Art (RCA), the West London institution at which I’m based.

London’s a huge city. It’s one of those places where it’s not uncommon to realize that you’ve stopped hanging out with some of your friends because they live just too far away. The reality is that if your friends live in some other neighborhood, it may have its own eccentrics and quirks, but it’s still not your neighborhood, which means that taking the two buses necessary to get to where they live is way too much work for a Saturday (or Sunday, or weekday).

But despite how spread out everything feels (or maybe because of that), I like London a lot. One of the things I like most is that once I emerge from underground, the area that I walk into likely will look completely different from the place where I first jumped on the tube, and my near-daily commute from home to the RCA is a constant reminder of that.

West London

The Royal College of Art is located in Kensington, which I like to think of as classic London, or tourist London, or rich London. It’s an expensive and gorgeous area that holds some of London’s most famous museums, the prestigious Imperial College (and, of course, the equally-prestigious Royal College of Art), a number of embassies, and Kensington High Street, which is a consumer’s dream: a long thoroughfare loaded with restaurants and shops. It’s an assertively beautiful area, full of gorgeous architecture and sweeping streets, made that much more picturesque by the fact that it borders the very lovely Hyde Park. Photos of the area don’t quite do it justice, but they hint at the regal architecture and sense of affluence that serves as a constant reminder that the neighborhoods are out of the price range of my modest Fulbright stipend.

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Photographs by Mimi Onuoha

That’s Kensington, which in my mind, is archetypal West London.

East London

Switching over to East London, Shoreditch is an area that’s another archetype of sorts, though in a completely different way. Depending on who you ask, Shoreditch is either an independent hub for bars, nightlife, restaurants, and cool vintage shops, or a formerly trendy has-been area that’s no longer relevant (that latter one is the constant refrain from the people who live South of the river, in London’s current hot spots of Peckham and Brixton). But however you want to think about it, there’s no denying that Shoreditch represents a typical imagining of East London and that its a pretty charming neighborhood, to boot.

Shoreditch, like lots of East London, has its share of the brownish London stock brick that characterizes many of the neighborhoods in the East, and it’s also got loads of bright colors, graffiti, and vintage stores and markets (Londoners do love their markets). It’s a fun area that’s five minutes from where I live, and I recently wandered through it and did my part to try and capture the spirit of the area through pictures.

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Photographs by Mimi Onuoha

So there’s a taste of what it’s like to physically walk through those spaces. As Michael, one of the other Fulbright-National Geographic fellows, has pointed out, a sense of place does set the tone for much of the work that we do. While West London is undeniably pretty, I personally prefer the charm of East London. But it’s my movement between the two that gives me a deep appreciation for what both parts of town have to offer.

Mimi Onuoha is a New York City-based researcher, artist and educator, who is in United Kingdom to explore the chasms and overlaps between the online and offline lives of a demographically diverse group of Londoners.

Comments

  1. Vincent izionworu Vincent
    Nigeria
    October 5, 2015, 8:32 am

    A great piece of literature that captures the places under discuss in words and pictures. Great combination and well on point Mimi, hope to visit those places soon.