Image for illustrative purpose only.
Lydia Bunt, The Independent
Why on earth would you move to London right now? The pandemic has contributed to an exodus from the capital and other big cities, with many seeking bigger open spaces and a better quality of life now that there is no need to be in town for work or play. There have been increases in job and housing searches in less densely populated areas, with a corresponding fall in rental and sale prices in London
I had been living with my family in Kent since March 2020, when I returned, put out, to complete my final year of university at home. I definitely wasn’t living out the rustic cottage core fantasy, however – think more trackies in Tunbridge Wells. I’ve always been fascinated by cities and, since spending a year abroad in Berlin as part of my degree course, have longed to be part of that insouciant urban culture again. I didn’t think this would change, even in the middle of a pandemic.
When the offer came up to move in with friends in Brixton, I did think twice. I was plagued by the idea that I should be saving money by staying with my parents, and conscious that I was lucky to have a supportive family life and a big garden. I also felt I should be guided by those leaving London in their droves for a more spacious life in suburbia. People I spoke to were surprised that I thought now was a good time to move. However, I ultimately decided to sacrifice the so-called rural idyll for more independence and some small form of a social life that didn’t involve watching University Challenge with my parents on a Monday night.
So far, I haven’t regretted my decision. Now, I seek unlikely community in public spaces, like Brockwell Park, which sees a constant stream of runners, dog-walkers, friends and, most recently, children playing in the snow. Even London’s mismatched architecture has provided some much-needed variation – I could spend all day wandering through streets of red brick terraces carelessly juxtaposed with prefab apartment blocks. I look up at the windows as I pass by and see dozens of people lit up by the glow of their laptops. Or I look out at the view from Brixton over the city and imagine life outside of my current bubble, excited that there’s still a lot of this town I have left to explore.
When I was living in quieter Kent, I found myself portioning out my time hour by hour, afraid of being unproductive while logged into my virtual postgraduate course and part-time work. Before, there was little to jolt me out of that tempo or distract me. But it was humdrum. Now, I feel inspired by my surroundings and the city’s diverse communities. Even in a pandemic, there are actually things happening here. And living with other young people has allowed me to forego technology in favour of scintillating conversation.
In The Lonely City, Olivia Laing draws together different experiences of metropolitan loneliness, showing that physical proximity does not necessarily mean fulfilling intimacy. Paradoxically, however, by collating material in this way she also demonstrates that isolation can be a shared experience. Perhaps, in a time where some degree of isolation is inevitable for everyone, merely knowing that there are other people in proximity can make you feel less alone. In that sense, there’s a certain community in seclusion.
In his short story Psychopolis, Ian McEwan writes of “the vast, fragmented city without a centre … a city that existed only in the mind, a nexus of change or stagnation in individual lives”. With bars, shops and restaurants closed and friends always at arm’s length, maybe my London also exists partly in the mind. There’s certainly been as much stagnation as there has change. But, at a time when it’s difficult not to feel isolated, living in the city has reminded me that community exists where we least expect it.
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