King’s Cross retrospect

On and off for 20 years I was involved in struggles at King’s Cross about the future use of the huge Railway Lands behind the King’s Cross and St Pancras stations. I wrote about it on and off but stopped being much involved after Camden Council granted planning permission in 2007 to Argent. By that time I was a co-chair, with Marian Larragy, of the King’s Cross Railway Lands Group KXRLG and in 200x the Group decided to disband, its paper archives mainly lodged at the London Metropolitan Archives and its web site archived by the BL.

I should, like a good academic, have written a book about all that. I haven’t, partly through laziness and partly because I’m daunted by the magnitude of what we tried to achieve over the years and the heavy weight of failure in our main objectives: to assert the rights and the emancipatory potential of citizens, especially local working class communities, to determine or shape what happened.

Thousands of people from around the world have been involved in these struggles or watched or studied them as part of the saga of urban activism and periodically they still ask me what has been going on. I try to respond, often by walking round the area with groups, sometimes by introducing enquirers to survivors of the KXRG, particularly Marian who remans living here and also is an invaluable community tutor to student projects in The Bartlett School where I work.

Now, amidst the strange lockdown of Covid-19, I have an email exchange with one of the many scholars who spent time here and wrote up the King’s Cross story back home in 2013:

dear Michael, I hope you are doing well, specially with this terrible situation.  Here in spain it is even worse. 
I would like to know how is going with KX. In all these years I have not followed the process but I am interested in recover it.  
What happened with the change of the urban center in KX with the physical movement of the council to other part of KX? what happened with the neigbourhood?  what about the gentrification process?  what about the social housing in the area?  what about the movilization of the population?  is there something remarkable?
do you have any references that i can read about it?  or where to look about?  
could you help me?  
best regards.  Marta

Marta Domínguez Pérez, Profesora, Departamento Sociología Aplicada, Facultad de Ciencias Políticas y Sociología, Universidad Complutense de Madrid

which made me feel I should really write more about what has happened at King’s Cross after it gobbled so much of my life. Then 2 days later she wrote:

dear Michael, i have found a lot of things since then!!!! it is fantastic.  
the book of bishop where you were interviewed, the document health inequalities in camden and islington from the council, knowing our communities from camden, a document from geographers A-Z 2015, your evaluation of the process 2003, overview about KX 2018, an article of the World Bank from Martha lawrence in spanish, the economic and social history of KX from regeneris 2017,.  with all that material i think it is enough.  
I am preparing …… and i have recovered the KX case and comparing with Alcobendas in the north of Madrid where the municipality is stronger than in UK case.  But the results are the same: new centrality of the neoliberal city as in KX where the muncipality is weaker, i think. do you agree?  
i know both cases are different in size, population, level of globalization, etc, but the move of the center in both cases from the municipality has been a new game in this terrible game.  
i am interesting in comparing both cases and i have found a lot of material.  
but if you have some more please tell me.  specially the evolution to nowadays of the KXLRG.  I am very intersted in.
best and hope you are fine.  

Marta, 15 September 2020

So this is a collection of jottings at present and I’m not publicising it yet except to Marta (who approves) and other old friends. There is a bibliography page in parallel (which could be more widely circulated and useful).

I shall be delighted if anyone wants to comment, disagree or add links. Use the comment facility below or email me.

Later 24 June 2021.

I’ll continue as though it were a message to Marta again. I have just read the King’s Cross section of a book which reached me from Anna Gasco, one of the 3 editors, with Kees Christiaanse and Naomi Hanakata. It is The Grand Projet: understanding the making and impact of urban megaprojects, nai010 publishers ¿2021 and big and heavy. It compares 6 projects including King’s Cross, the 22@ development in Barcelona, Hamburg Hafencity, La Défense and projects in Tokyo, Shanghai, HK and Singapore. It seems to me to be a very odd assortment of projects and it’s approached from a rather architectural point of view with lots of elegant and not-very-communicative plans. Certainly not a political economy.

You should certainly read the KX segment which will add some new knowledge for you, as it does for me (despite some inaccuracies). Why didn’t they compare it with Seine Rive Gauche if a Paris case is useful. One of my students did that in the early 90s which was great because he showed how the office market collapse led to the scheme collapsing in England while in France the State kept going, spent zillions of francs on decking over the railways, building a non-functioning Biblioteque Nationale and had no commercial tenants —just debt. Such an interesting comparison of state form as well as urban projects. You might also find their Barcelona case interesting: I don’t know 22@ well enough to evaluate. It always seemed a neo-liberal mess to me and absolutely NOT what was progressive or interesting about Barcelona.

Otherwise I haven’t seen any new publications. Some of my colleagues here are doing an international comparative project which includes KX, with a focus on governance of investment. Sonia Freire Trigo, Iqbal Hamiduddin, Danielle Sanderson and Mike Raco. I can put you in touch if you want. I walked round King’s Cross yesterday with them and some of their students and it all looked fabulous in the sunshine. I’m so pleased that other people are picking up the research threads on the KX project. But I must write more on KX.

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