Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism and Barking Riverside

Barking Riverside – a place like no other
I finally returned to document the development at Barking Riverside a couple of Sundays ago, late in the afternoon. I’d wrongly assumed that the project was largely complete and had only previously skirted around the fringes, firstly in 2017 and then last October at the end of my walk along the Gores Brook. I’ll confess I’d only done a cursory browse of the developer’s website and saw my visit as merely to observe and document, not to critique or unpick the underlying economics and what this might say about the ongoing reshaping of London. However, one comment on YouTube caught my attention this morning:
“love you John and have for years, but I would have liked you to do more of a critique of the politics of this kind of development; I know you get this stuff – not sure why you avoided it”
This is a fair point and particularly as I approach the self-publication of my book ‘Welcome to New London’ that does indeed take in the political dimensions of some new developments in London. But I hadn’t done an adequate amount of research on this complex development to be able to inform any kind of critique.

Barking Riverside, January 2023

Capitalist Realism and Urban development via ChatGPT

I found myself this afternoon thinking about Mark Fisher’s highly influential book, Capitalist Realism, which I confess I haven’t read but my son has, and talked about it a lot. So I turned to ChatGPT to provide a summary and then relate Fisher’s ideas to the subject of urban development and by extension, I suppose we can see how this relates (or not) to Barking Riverside. Below is my exchange with ChatGPT:

hi – can you give me a summary of Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism please?

“Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism is a book that argues that the dominant ideology in Western societies is a belief that capitalism is the only viable economic system and that it is natural and inevitable. Fisher contends that this belief, which he refers to as “capitalist realism,” has led to a sense of resignation and hopelessness among many people, making it difficult to imagine alternatives to capitalism and to fight for change. He also argues that this ideology has had a profound impact on culture and art, leading to a focus on surface-level spectacle and a lack of critical engagement with the underlying realities of society. The book explores the ways in which capitalist realism has been reinforced by political and economic changes, and the ways in which it can be challenged.”

Barking Riverside pylons

Is there any way that Fisher’s ideas relate to the development of cities and the built environment?

“Mark Fisher’s ideas about “capitalist realism” can certainly be related to the development of cities and the built environment. In his book, Fisher argues that capitalist realism has led to a sense of resignation and hopelessness among many people, making it difficult to imagine alternatives to capitalism and to fight for change.
In the context of urban development, capitalist realism can be seen as promoting the idea that the current form of urban development is natural and inevitable, and that there are no alternatives to the current patterns of urban growth and development. This can lead to a lack of critical engagement with the underlying realities of urban development, such as the ways in which capitalist urban development can reinforce inequality, lead to displacement of marginalised communities, and contribute to environmental degradation.
Fisher’s ideas can also be related to the ways in which urban development and the built environment are shaped by the demands of capital, or the means of producing and exchanging wealth. The drive for profit can lead to the development of cities that prioritise the needs of business and the wealthy over the needs of the majority of residents. This can manifest in the form of gentrification, where low-income communities are pushed out of neighbourhoods in order to make way for more profitable development.
In summary, Fisher’s ideas about capitalist realism can be applied to the development of cities and the built environment in the sense that they highlight the ways in which capitalist ideology can limit our ability to imagine alternative forms of urban development and obscure the negative impacts of urban development on marginalised communities and the environment.”

ChatGPT’s response here certainly rings true when questioning urban development in London:
– that the current form of urban development is natural and inevitable
– capitalist ideology can limit our ability to imagine alternative forms of urban development

The idea that new homes could be built in collaboration with the local community to meet their housing needs in line with average incomes is seen as being wildly unrealistic. The ratio of social housing to so-called ‘affordable homes’ and private ownership properties is ultimately set by the profit-motive of the developers, despite the low targets set by the GLA. And the cost of ‘affordable homes’ is not based on average incomes, or the incomes in the areas where the homes are being built, but on the balance sheet of the developers.

The American Friend – Wim Wenders (1977)

The American Friend Wim Wenders

Recently renewing my Mubi subscription, I’m trying to watch more films rather than clicking between YouTube videos. Wim Wenders’ The American Friend was the first film of this new era of attention expansion. It’s a great film and I couldn’t help but grab my phone to capture the incredible art direction. The colours, the use of the picture frames, the sky, the beach and the orange VW Beetle, Dennis Hopper, Bruno Gantz, and Lisa Kreuzer, the Hamburg Docks. Perfection.

The American Friend Wim Wenders
The American Friend Wim Wenders
The American Friend Wim Wenders
The American Friend Wim Wenders
The American Friend Wim Wenders
The American Friend Wim Wenders

Rainy London Walk through Mayfair to Piccadilly 

The rain really reveals London in the raw. So where better to take a walk in a downpour than through the glitz and glamour of the London district most associated with ostentatious wealth – Mayfair. We peel off Regent Street down Maddox Street into St George’s, looking down into the valley of the lost River Tyburn. We accidentally stumble upon David Bowie’s old red phone box in Heddon Street where he was photographed for the back cover of the Ziggy Stardust album (I had no idea and learned this in the YouTube comments). We pass through St James’s Church into Jermyn Street and stroll Piccadilly Arcade to face The Royal Academy of Arts on Piccadilly. And its here we find the destination of this sodden walk (via Hatchards booksellers) – Burlington Arcade. Opened in 1819, following the fashion started on the continent in Paris and Brussels, this beautiful passage seems to belong in a parallel dimension. When I emerged at the other end – the rain had stopped.

Leytonstone Pop-Up Cinema

Iain Sinclair Leytonstone
Iain Sinclair introducing Edith walks at Leytonstone Pop-Up Cinema, 2019

The last screening at the Leytonstone Pop-Up Cinema was in October 2022 and I realise that we haven’t updated any of our news feeds since then. This is partly because we have no news to announce at the moment but the Pop-Up Cinema isn’t finished just yet.

We launched the Leytonstone Film Club in July 2008 with a screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger accompanied by a live re-scoring at Leytonstone Library in the Leytonstone Festival. And we ran continuously since then until the lockdowns started in March 2020. We returned in October 2021 but our numbers were seriously down on pre-pandemic levels leading to us taking a break a year later to re-assess our future. And that is where we’re currently at. Hopefully we’ll decide to carry on in some form. Whether that’s at Leytonstone Library remains to be seen. But the desire to bring cinema back to Leytonstone, the birthplace of Alfred Hitchcock, is as strong as it was when we launched with that great screening nearly 15 years ago.

Here are some photos from screenings and events over the years.

Walking the River Quaggy – South London’s Magic River

The River Quaggy, or Quaggy River as it’s marked on maps for some of its course, has beguiled me since I first heard its name mentioned after a screening about twelve years ago. I encountered it for real in Lewisham Town Centre when doing one of the walks for my book, This Other London, and passed it briefly on a walk tracing the River Beck. So one day in November I set out to walk a section of the Quaggy, starting at Lewisham Station where the Quaggy and the Ravensbourne meet before the conjoined rivers become the Deptford Creek and flow into the Thames. The River Quaggy rises at Locksbottom in the London Borough of Bromley and is known as the Kyd Brook in its lower reaches.

On the first walk, this gentle river led us through Lewisham Town Centre to Manor Park, formerly a pig farm, then to Manor Gardens Park with its fantastic library situated in the 18th Century Manor House. We then returned to a stretch of Lee Road to Lee Green and followed the river into Blackheath where we were thwarted by locked park gates and the black of night ended the first walk.

The Quaggy at Manor Park, Lewisham
The Quaggy at Manor Park, Lewisham
The Quaggy at Sutcliffe Park, Eltham
The Quaggy at Sutcliffe Park, Eltham

I returned just over a week ago to pick up the Quaggy trail in Sutcliffe Park, Eltham where the Quaggy is free of its culvert and allowed the flood parts of the surrounding parkland, before it’s corralled back into a concrete channel to make the journey through the suburban realm. It passes beneath the South Circular Road and once again through sports grounds. We walk beside its waters along Mottingham Lane before it enters the grounds of Capel Manor College. Picking up the river on the other side of the College I arrived at Chinbrook Meadows just after sunset to see the Quaggy running free once more meandering through this charming park. My South London river odyssey ended not long afterwards in the dark on New Street Hill looking across at Sundridge Golf Course, where, somewhere between the bunkers, the name of this magical watercourse changes to the Kyd Brook.

What a fantastic walk, at every turn a wonder, making me more determined than ever to dedicate the coming year to walking London’s rivers.