Susie Rushton: Urban Notebook

Whitechapel trendy? It's too cool to change
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The Independent Online

In the first months I lived in the East End, I keenly followed the local itinerary: the fragrant crush of Colombia Road flower market on a Sunday morning; bar-hopping between pubs where individualism means the same ludicrous haircuts, neon shoes and tight white jeans; bagels and curries on Brick Lane. By that time, the East was no longer up-and-coming. Ugly and filthy it might have been – but it had a very mainstream kind of kudos. A bit like buying an Arctic Monkeys album when deep down you prefer the Bee Gees.

To be geographically fashionable requires timing, and mine was a bit off. As any resident graphic designer or freelance rock photographer (and they are legion) will tell you, Shoreditch hit the apex of coolness approximately 12 years ago, when artists lived in the colossal warehouses and had to walk for 30 minutes to buy a pint of milk.

I abandoned the cool end of the East End after a few years, shifting to Whitechapel, where street life is less skittish and Bangladeshi families outnumber fashion students. Here there are both striptease clubs with blacked-out windows, and fully-shrouded women and girls, some less than adolescent; dozens of drunken homeless loll on the pavement, mingling with bearded young Muslim men who have never tasted alcohol. If the Royal London air ambulance service isn't juddering overhead then the muezzin of the East London mosque will be singing out.

One warm evening in 2005, I heard an urgent voice directly below my bedroom window. It was Jon Snow, broadcasting live and direct from a supposed hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism. And maybe it is – but I have never received so much as a scowl from my neighbours.

Encircled at my desk by cardboard boxes, preparing to move west, I'm feeling misty-eyed for Whitechapel, the old girl who refuses a tarting-up for the tourists and trendies. Untold quantities of 2012 cash and the extension of the East London line promise to turn Tower Hamlets into Shangri-La. But I'll bet my favourite pair of neon shoes that the historic squalor of Whitechapel will remain immune to the grand schemes of politicians – and to the pretensions of its residents.

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