Highstreet footfall has flatlined since the beginning of the pandemic. The government’s response to this, plus a swathe of other issues that have been expedited by the pandemic, has come in the form of the “Build Back Better” scheme – A radical push to restart the ailing economy, generate jobs and develop infrastructure across the UK. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said about the push to reignite the economy,
“This plan for growth is a call to arms to put this right. Our mission is to unleash the potential of our whole country and restore the energy and confidence of the Victorians themselves.”Boris Johnson
As bombastic as ever, Johnson never fails to inject a sense of flailing hopefulness in the face of his ever-lacking leadership.
Meeting The Mound
On one of my first post-lockdown excursions into London city centre to meet my colleagues non-virtually for the first time, I sat on the 390 bus as we dipped through the grand streets of Mayfair.
As the bus rounded the bend past Marble Arch, I noticed something unsightly had consumed the structure. At first glance, I assumed it to be some stage, vast struts of scaffolding propped up vaguely grey-green tarps, its unfinished exoskeleton revealing a hollow shell beneath. I believed at the time that, whatever it was that I was looking at, was far from finished.
It wasn’t until stories began flooding Twitter that I put two and two together. The strange heap overlooking Hyde Park was, in fact, the inaugural opening of a temporary installation commissioned by Westminster City Council – The Marble Arch Mound. Kay Buxton, chief executive of the local business group the Marble Arch London BID, said this about the project:
“Marble Arch Mound is a much needed shot in the arm for the recovery of London’s hospitality sector, as we expect hundreds of thousands of visitors to come back to the West End to see this spectacular attraction. With international tourism still on hold, the sector is relying on domestic tourism to boost income, and Marble Arch Mound offers UK visitors something truly unique and remarkable, and a reason to venture to the capital once again.”Kay Buxton
At best, The Mound feels like a fleeting attempt at stimulating a pandemic-riddled economy; at worst, it is excruciatingly out of touch. At the heart of the capital, the faux-natural installation does nothing to consider what may bring life back to an entirely disconnected London – a public space that engages positively with the unbuilt environment, free of transactions. So much space in the capital is privately owned and built upon that green spaces are mostly confined to protected segments of land that day-outers flock to in hopes of escaping the claustrophobic highstreets of Soho, Marylebone and Mayfair.
Better spent elsewhere
Homelessness, privatised land, and costly commutes are but a few endemic issues that can make navigating the city an unsavoury experience. Once you pass the monetary threshold to enter the city, you are greeted with grand examples of London’s eclectic architectural history. Beautiful facades, if not private housing for the rich and famous, usually conceal shopfronts. Boutique coffee spots, luxury apparel outlets, and sprawling apartment stores overlook gated communities and private gardens. A closer look, however, reveals ugly truths that are all too commonplace in most major cities. Those without proper accommodation are forced to take shelter in alcoves where they won’t be shooed employees or, worse still, aggressed upon by police.
According to Streets Of London, “More than 11,000 people sleep rough on the streets of London every year.”
Many have fallen by the wayside in the wake of the pandemic. As Boris Johnson’sgovernment continually fails to protect its most vulnerable, and utterly unnatural “experience” has been erected in the name of stimulating the economy. The estimated cost of The Marble Arch Mound totals £2 million, a figure that pales in comparison to the estimated £10 billion it would take to end homelessness in the UK, but would nonetheless have made a tangible impact on so many lives. If only it were invested in helping London’s most vulnerable.
Instead, we are left with The Mound, a sarcastic grin diminishing green and free spaces in the city, a poor attempt at stimulating the city centre’s long-broken economy.
Living in a studio apartment, three flights away from solid ground, no private or public outdoor space in sight, the thing I craved most throughout 2020 was, beyond reconnecting with loved ones, reengaging with the physical environment.
The built environment constricts us and tricks us into thinking we can freely navigate the world when, in reality, every city street in central London carrels us down estuaries to our designated location like GPS. If your destination is The Marble Arch Mound, you’ll pay a rapidly falling rate of £4.50 to climb 130 stairs like a theme park rollercoaster, slowly ticking along the track while you take in the sights of a sordid landmass, barren highstreets, a person with no shoes or shelter.
Reviews of The Mound
Is there any catharsis at the top of the mound? Some new vigour to experience the city, to spend, to consume? Let’s see how those who visited the mound reacted on their trip to the manufactured spectacle.
Should you visit The Mound?
If you’re ever in the area, ticking along to your pre-approved destination for shopping or food or spectacle, break free from the time-money matrix to go and marvel at The Mound. In my fleeting glimpse at its heavy presence casting shadows over Hyde Park, I didn’t find anything “remarkable” about it other than the mere fact of its conception.
I put it to the decision-makers behind The Mound, and perhaps the decision-makers full stop that there may well be many a tangible “reason to venture to the capital once again.” However, The Mound isn’t one of them.
It is instead a decaying reminder that those who make decisions on your behalf in the name of profit don’t know you at all and don’t care enough to find out.