"...and the legal Right to Light inscribed by the United Kingdom’s Ancient Light law."
The A12 motorway and the DLR railway form a physical barrier between the two neighbouring dockland boroughs of Canary Wharf (south) and Poplar (north). Both damaged during the Second World War these neighbourhoods today manifest starkly contrasting approaches to, realisations of and experiences with urban development: Canary Wharf's development, under the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC), was guided by the privatisation of land and the powers of finance capital, while Poplar's development, today facilitated by Poplar HARCA, is lead by a community oriented organisation and decision making process.
A12 dividing Poplar and Canary
The contrasts of their urban development strategies have since carved into the social and economic fabric of both neighbourhoods. Canary Wharf claims to be the biggest centre of employment in the UK with 120.000 employees streaming daily to their workplaces at the wharf. Only a tenth of the people working in this district however are registered in its parent borough Tower of Hamlets. On the contrary, Tower of Hamlets—of which Poplar is part as well—leads in the ranking of unemployment rates for London boroughs (trustoflondon.org.uk). The developments and successes of the Canary Wharf business district have not been of support to its neighbouring communities.
Our research is rooted in this sensation of frictions and power asymmetries carved through the urban hybrid of Poplar and Canary Wharf, located at arms length from one another. The Canary Wharf development is named as exemplary to the 2050 Thames development plan and has been rewarded recognition from multiple sides. We chose to explore the condition between these two neighbourhoods and specifically the repercussions of the Canary Wharf development from the histories and present experiences of Poplar. Our research process subsequently prioritises the Poplar community in order to listen to and reflect upon alternative voices around the Canary Wharf development project. The exchanges with employees at Poplar HARCA, Poplar Works and in situ conversations during a first field trip from Canary Wharf to Poplar shed a different light on the famed development through the stories of its surrounding urban context.
Facing south from Poplar Recreation Ground
A stroll through the greens of the Poplar Recreation Ground provides an immersive experience of these asymmetries as shiny high-rise facades shimmer through the park's branches. Bold office buildings, tagged with "HSBC", "JP Morgan", "Barclays" and "Citi" block the view south, when facing towards the sun.