In 2015 I was living in Whitechapel, London. The rate of development going all around our block of flats was jaw dropping. There was more than one occasion when I’d be walking somewhere I’d walked many times before and I’d lose my way. The street would have changed. A huge building would have been demolished or built seemingly overnight and I wouldn’t recognise it.
When we moved in we had a 280 degree view of London. South, east and north. We’d go up on this huge roof that all 200 flats shared. No one would ever be up there. About a year in a building was built across the way and it took around 40 degrees of the view. Soon after another development took the whole of south London.
Around the same time I was noticing I was getting hellos and making connections in the community around the house. For the first time in fourteen years of London. It scared me because I knew that like every apartment I’d had in London before I’d get priced out within 12-24 months and would have to move. It was like clockwork.
I always tried to not let the idea of gentrification effect me. I’ve seen years of Conservative governments with next to no regard for the less fortunate. I was just being realistic. They were never going to put poorer people ahead of a rich person. I was also part of the cause. One of many hipster idiots that will move to certain areas and pay too much rent once the coffee gets good.
This time it effected me in a new way. I couldn’t breathe. I’d wake up in the middle of the night coughing so painfully. It went on for months. I wasn’t sure what was causing it. I thought it was anxiety at first but that’s the awful thing about breathing. When you can’t breathe well you get anxious which in turn negatively effects your breathing.
Eventually i figured out it was being caused by pollution. The rate of development around my apartment was so extreme that the air was 90% brick.
I never spoke to anyone or complained about the brick dust. I really should have started campaigning for cleaner air. I can’t have been the only one struggling. I regret hugely that I didn’t take any action.
I remember that I could only go jogging if I wore a mask. I looked like Bane. Occasionally I’d have to stop mid run to rest. Not uncommon when you can’t breathe. The thing is you can’t really stop running when you’re sweating, dressed in all black and wearing a mask. If you do you really freak people out.