The Square Mile is slowly but surely shaking off its tag as a cultural dead zone.
Business people in suits scramble into the area on weekdays, grab a few pints after work and then head back home. If you walked around the area on a weekend a few years ago, you’d have thought you were in a ghost town.
But things are looking up, with the City of London Corporation working hard to make the area a cultural destination in its own right. So much so that the authority has invested billions of pounds into making the City more than just a place of work.
Two of the largest projects are the redevelopment of Smithfield and the ambitious Culture Mile plans.
Included is the relocation of the Museum of London to West Smithfield, the creation of a Centre of Music by the Barbican Centre, and the transformation of Beech Street into a cleaner and more welcoming food and retail environment lined with street art.
The Eastern Cluster will also grow to close the gap between the isolated Walkie Talkie building and the rest of the area’s towers, while more “animated” ground floor space is being delivered in the shape of a £50million investment by the Tower 42 estate and a new retail boulevard called The Avenue. This is all included in the Corporation’s 2036 City Plan.
But this isn’t just coming from the authority. The business make-up of the City is evolving, moving away from a place where large financial firms previously dominated.
Now, 99% of City occupiers are classified as SMEs of less than 250 people, according to City of London Corporation statistics.
And while the companies are getting smaller, their employees are also getting younger. In fact, 61% of City workers are now aged between 22 and 39 – compared with 40% across England and Wales.
Both of these changes have been huge driving forces behind the City’s recent embrace of greater cultural happenings.
Planning committee chairman Chris Hayward said: “More than ever we are seeing that businesses are making location decisions based on the quality of the buildings, local amenities and public realm that they can offer their employees.
“Developers are seeing that what the changing generation want in terms of workspace is very different than what their predecessors wanted. The market itself has to flex and adapt to cater for that.
“When I first came to the City 30 years ago, by six o’clock in the evening everyone had left. They’d either gone home or gone to the West End for their social life.
“Now, because we are also offering high-quality bars, restaurants and retail, more and more people are spending 24/7 in the City.”
Such change is epitomised by The Bloomberg Arcade. It is now home to some of the Square Mile’s best new restaurants including Caravan, Homeslice, Koya, and Kym’s.
The Arcade has also become a thriving arts and culture space. The area hosts outdoor film evenings, live music shows and other pop-up events.
Moreover, guests can find all kinds of Roman artefacts, discovered during the building’s construction, on show across the road at the London Mithraeum Bloomberg SPACE.
Even luxury developments around the City are taking notice of this new desire for cultural infrastructure. These builds are adding to the cultural fabric of London, not just making more homes.
One Tower Bridge is a prime example. Within the development, locals and tourists alike can find joy in Prosecco House, London’s first ever bar dedicated to Italy’s sparkling stuff, the Ivy Restaurant, and the 900-seat Bridge Theatre.
Managing director of Berkeley Homes, Harry Lewis, wants to capitalise on this 24/7 culture in central London.
“We wanted One Tower Bridge to be a seven-day-a-week community; somewhere that residents, local workers and visitors would enjoy and want to spend time in.
“Ensuring the right mix of residential, fine dining, cultural offerings and public spaces played a vital role in this – One Tower Bridge has now fully come to life as a new hub on the South Bank.”
And this trend doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Plans for 1-2 Broadgate have been submitted, offering flexible accommodation for a mix of uses, including a whopping 375,000sq ft of retail space arranged around a new arcade over four levels.
They’re even planning to include 45,000sq ft of terraces, balconies and green spaces.
It is set to bring even more people into the folds of the Square Mile after hours. But this is still many years away from completion, much like the proposed Goodsyard development in Shoreditch.
It is clear that the City is set to become a unique and enormous hub for food and drink, retail, art and public space offerings. Just give it a little time to fully realise it.