Friday, July 17, 2009

Time-travelling with Google maps

Late last night, I walked down the street where I lived from the age of four until I was fourteen. A virtual walk, using Street View in Google maps. A rather sad experience though. For what a visual mess so much of the English urban landscape has become!

When I lived there -- we are talking about the outer London suburbs in Surrey -- the streets were quietly respectable, each house (built in the 30s, I think) separated from the road by a small front garden, neatly enclosed in privet hedges, with the obligatory flowerbeds and small patch of lawn. The houses along the road were identical apart from the colours of the front door. No one could call them particularly elegant. But there was a quiet uniformity; and the trees along the grass verges to the road, together with the hedges and front gardens, softened the rather dour drabness of the brick houses, so the overall effect was pleasing enough. As home-owning (as opposed to renting) became more common among the middle middle classes after the war, it was just the kind of street people aspired to live in.

Now, of course, the hedges and front lawns and hollyhocks have nearly all gone: where there were gardens, there is concrete and asphalt and paving stones, so cars can be parked two abreast with their noses up against the front windows. The long green verges to the road have been paved over too, so people can drive their cars across, with the few remaining trees isolated on little patches. The houses themselves have suffered from scattered cheap replacement windows, a new porch here, a differently tiled roof there. It all looks more than a bit scruffy: there is nothing along the road to soothe the eye, no riots of flowers to cheer the heart. I can't imagine anyone positively aspiring to live there.

Yet the houses now change hands for a third of a million pounds.

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