The Peninsula

Yesterday, on our way back from being almost the sole audience of an excellent stand-up comedian near Oxford Circus, my housemate and I strolled over to the Greenwich Peninsula terminal of the new cable cars to see if we could get a sunset ride over the river. We’ve been watching them build the things for a year, and they opened yesterday, but despite the perfect weather they were already shut for the day by the time we got there (a second attempt at 7am this morning we abandoned due to bollocks weather).

With the moon up, we strolled barefoot over the recently cut grass of the long meadow which seperates Millennium Village from the O2. For those who’ve never been there, the Greenwich Peninsula is an almost literally unbelievable place – part futuristic mecca, part police-state nightmare, part mario kart level, part overgrown-parking-lot, part warehouse. Periodically there’s bungee jumping there, or chairoplanes. Mostly, though, there’s a bus terminal, and some cable cars. In the exact centre of this incomprehensible mess sits the weidest thing you could possibly put there – a totally normal (and quite pleasant) pub (The Pilot Inn), with a quiz night, a cheese counter, and a beer garden. Inside, you’re at the end of any nice-ish residential street in the UK. Exit, and there’s the Millennium Dome glowering at you over the treeline, the futuristic (?german-looking) flats of oval square on the other side, parkland all around, the meridian laser-beam just visible in the distance. At least sixty buses an hour drive straight past this pub on their way to the North Greenwich terminal; none stops anywhere near it.

Though it’s an environment that could drive a casual observer completely insane (I’ve watched it happen), I’ve gradually grown extremely fond of the peninsula. It’s testimony, in my view, to the ultimate inability of corporations to really decide what happens to urban space. You can’t control reception!, as we English-student types often chant. The place is a distillation of the fragments of various grand projects, of which the Millennium Dome is only the biggest and most obvious. It exhudes a charm entirely aside from the spirit in which they were planned (although dependant on it). What will the ‘Emirates’ Air Line look like in ten years, or Millennium Village in twenty? Futuristic, corporate visions like these die young, transformed by the people who actually use them into something different, richer, more dynamic. Greenwich Peninsula is a theme park made out of the failed and expensive dreams of people trying to make us see the world a certain way. Its incoherence, sharpened increasingly over more than a decade, becomes part of the counterargument. From the curvacious, wooden primary school which sits near its heart for no reason to the equally unexpected four-ish storey high sculpture made of what looks like giant aluminium pins, this is an environment which, seen a certain way, profoundly challenges the unitary, authoritarian voice of its constructors. More voices, more ideas, inexplicably more, it says. Heteroglossia. There’s unity in difference. Embrace the nonsense.

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