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Corporation creep: why London’s Bond Street became Burberry Street – and caused outrage | Fashion

Blink (quite slowly) and you maybe missed it, because by tonight Bond Street will have reclaimed its rightful name, having spent London fashion week as Burberry Street. The iconic tube sign was renamed and retinted in a discombobulating, non-tube blue, and, by and large, people hated it.

This may have come as a surprise to Transport for London, who did the deal with the fashion brand, and are keen to stress that “signage within trains, including the in-car digital displays that show what the next station is, and route maps within the trains, have not been changed as part of this temporary take-over”.

This is not even without recent precedent – Barbican became Barbiecan for the Oppenheimer movie (joke) but that was a little different, says Will Jennings, who teaches and writes about architecture, about architecture, and edits the journal recessed.space. “Bond Street is public space. Barbican is a privately owned public space. No one really got angry about Barbiecan, and I got why. It sounds the same. Burberry Street doesn’t even make sense. If you dropped it into a sentence, you’d immediately delete it.”

No question – the enterprise was guilty of poor wordplay and naked corporatisation. Arguably, insufficient thought was given to people with disabilities, visual ones in particular, and those who are unfamiliar with the city or the language. But does this, says Jennings, “speak to a trend of what the city is? Is it just a backdrop for a jokey consumerist marketing opportunity? Or is it a fundamental place where people live, work, have memories, create new connections?”

Anna Minton – an academic and the author of Big Capital: Who is London For? – is unequivocal: “It’s part and parcel of the bigger picture of the branding and privatisation of the city, an approach which looks at space and place as primarily things to make a profit from.”

The sharp edges of this, the bits that people notice, tend to be in spaces that we understand instinctively as belonging to all of us: parks and commons, which are increasingly “festivalised” – gated off for ticket holders. In 2022, Brockwell Park was closed for almost a third of the summer; Clapham Common had premises licences for 10 major events, hosting up to 40,000 people a day, between 2021 and 2024.

In a study of Finsbury Park in 2022, the academic Guy Osborn concluded that a looser approach was needed, balancing organised profit-driven festivals with spontaneous events, which cuts to the heart of what people object to when these events come to their neighbourhood. Often one feels as though one ought to have a grown-up complaint, such as, “it ruins the grass” or “I can’t use the playground”, but the real, gut-level objection is, “why should I be kicked off common land to make way for people who have paid to be there?”

This feels much more personal when you consider it a local space; when it comes to central areas such as Trafalgar Square, people don’t tend to feel the same personal connection (unless, possibly, you’re the King?), so they get away with murder, closing for pop-up festivals whenever the mood (money) takes them. “I’m a Londoner,” says Jennings, “so I don’t really hang around Trafalgar Square very much. But it is our national central public agora.”

We all know why local authorities do it – they’ve been bled dry for 13 years by central government decisions: hiring out their green spaces is the least of it. Birmingham Council, recently declared effectively bankrupt, is considering selling its library and its art gallery. Yet that language of necessity forces everything into the parameters of quite a narrow question – how much did it raise? – when there is a deeper question, in which we’re all invested. As Jennings puts it: “How do we value open space, galleries, beyond how we can monetise it?”

On the subject of Bond Street specifically, and how much it raised, opinion is divided: Jennings thinks “a nice, small amount”; Minton thinks that “Burberry was paying very, very large amounts of money”. It ought to be possible to nail this down, but TfL declined to specify, commenting only that, whatever it was, it was invested back into the network. Again, the language of money gates off pluralism: it’s enough for us to know that profit was made, we don’t need to know how much. But without that information, how could we decide collectively whether it was worth it?

Branding deals, festivalisation, these are all part of the “covert exclusion from public space”, Minton says, citing other aspects of the same picture: “The takeover of large parts of the city by private estates, that’s a very big part of it.” This has implications for ownership, wherein developers quietly take possession of public highways as part of the deal, but it also has implications for the architecture, which becomes “defensible – quite high security, bollards, gates, delineations of public and private”, says Minton.

We all know that unmistakable vibe of, say, the concourse of a bank’s headquarters: the marble, the statement sculptures, the anti-tramp spikes on public benches, the smooth, slidey surfaces that say “walk through but don’t hang around”. Corporate pop-ups don’t have to justify themselves aesthetically, as they’re impermanent, but they still contribute to a “sterility where everything comes to look the same”, says Minton.

None of this is new: the Business Improvement District was a Thatcherite idea, taken to much greater lengths under Tony Blair, whereby local businesses would come together to support the needs of the community, maybe undertaking to improve the paving or similar, often taking the cleaning or maintenance off the local authority.

But it tends towards homogeneity and inauthenticity. Jennings describes the north bank of the Thames: “They’ve tried to rebrand Fitzrovia as ‘mid-town’. No one calls it mid-town. If you look at the members of that bid, it’s huge oil companies, hotels, they have a different idea of the demographic they want, a different way of curating their visual language, a different way of shaping the city. Often it looks really nice but there is a level of security that you’re not aware of – you don’t know when you’re in a surveilled area.” And when the Christmas lights go up, they’ve all got logos. That’s not what I want from Santa; he doesn’t work for The Man, or maybe he does, what with all the presents.

The tube network is an interesting study in which we feel moved to defend our collective spaces. Let’s face it, it’s not clean, it’s definitely not bucolic, it’s not even odour-free, I don’t go on it to feel closer to nature or meaning. But when Battersea Power Station and Nine Elms stations opened, and they were in the highly desirable tube zone one – which looked like a developer demand to increase the value of the flats – it drove and continues to drive me crackers.

It makes no geographical sense, since now the Northern line goes out of zone one and back in again. The stations used Section 106 money, which is cash that developers are supposed to funnel back to the community – but what that infrastructure mostly did was boost the value of the development. And, like Bond Street being Burberry Street, it doesn’t really matter at all, and yet somehow it does.


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