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Grotland explored: The fleeting urban imaginaries of post-war inner West London

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The status as a dynamic urban frontier or periphery of areas ripe for gentrification or in the process of gentrification is illuminated by discursive representations of North Kensington, West London. As part of a specifically 1950s and 1960s localized urban imaginary this district was viewed as part of ‘Grotland’, a zone of transition containing much architectural and social decay but also new social housing and wealthier incomers in the same period. Recollections of one street, Portland Road, W11, mediated by a 2012 television documentary, emphasize frontiers within the street dividing it between a wealthier south and a poorer north. Historical accounts of the area make Portland Road itself into a frontier dividing a prosperous and respectable zone to the east from an extremely poor and unrespectable one to the west. Fiction written in the 1950s and 1960s highlights moments at which life in areas such as this, far from seeming to be in inexorable change towards gentrification, seemed to hold chaos and dereliction together with capitaldriven reformulations. Taking these materials into account, work on gentrification needs to be nuanced by an understanding of individual acts of gentrification in dialogue with structural and environmental change. More than has so far been recognized, urban imaginaries often focus on transitional and highly localized portions of imagined cities.
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Keywords: Bullman, Joseph; London; London fiction; North Kensington; gentrification; memory; television documentary; urban imaginaries

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Åbo Akademi University

Publication date: 01 September 2015

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  • Cities have been increasingly at the forefront of debate in both humanities and social-science disciplines, but there has been relatively little dialogue across these disciplinary boundaries. Journals in social-science fields that use urban-studies methods to look at life in cities rarely explore the cultural aspects of urban life in any depth or delve into close readings of the representation of cities in individual cultural products. As a platform for interdisciplinary scholarship from any and all linguistic, cultural and geographical traditions, the Journal of Urban Cultural Studies prioritizes the urban phenomenon in order to better understand the culture(s) of cities.
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