Who are we?

“… young professionals, likely to have a taste for Mediterranean holidays, French food and Scandinavian design.”

That is what Chamberlin Powell and Bon said in 1959 about the demographic which was being targeted by the new flats they were building.

The Barbican estate was originally conceived and built by the City of London as flats to rent to people working in the City. The brochures they produced to help let the flats were certainly aimed at people with plenty of money. See the one on the right.

I don’t know how well that was achieved. Speaking for myself, I only scored two out of three. (I was never that sold on Scandinavian design. But I was a young professional, and I have eaten an awful lot of meals at Café du Marché.)

Those ridiculous ferns which always got in the way; I do recall the fad for those. But did we really fancy matching sofas and curtains in those days?

Margaret Thatcher changed everything when she gave Council tenants the ‘right to buy’ their flats. In the Barbican, the tenants were not ‘Council tenants’ as we would normally understand the term. But the City was a council, and the people living in the Barbican were tenants and we suddenly discovered we were very pleased to be Council tenants because we could buy our flats at a hefty discount.

My impression at the time was that the bulk of Barbican residents were not all that wealthy, just normal working folk.

For a time in the late 20th century, all but a handful of flats were were owned by their occupiers. Everything seemed to change again as flat values began to sky rocket in the last decade and a half. Now you have to be rich to afford to buy a Barbican flat. Flats are rarely bought with mortgage loans nowadays; most are bought for cash. Buyers who are working, and who use mortgage money to buy their flats, certainly have to be high earners to raise the necessary loans. Barbican flat owners are generally well-off. Many are retired. many are investors who let their flats. Now there are far more renters than there ever were fifteen years ago.

Under the pressure of well-off flat owners with expectations, the superficial appearance of the estate has changed considerably. In the 1980s, the estate was stark and bare. If you wonder why commentators and journalists of the last century always denigrated the Barbican estate as a dehumanised concrete jungle, imagine the estate without flowers, without reed beds in the lake, and without wooden plant holders on the podium, and you will understand. Now residents have a profusion of plants and flowers in their window boxes and resident volunteers have planted podium boxes and have completely transformed the Fann Street ‘Wild Garden’. This is all the result of the estate changing to reflect the tastes of the resident population.

We used to have ‘Crispins’, a totally down market ‘corner shop’. Now we have a shop which sells the weirdest luxury items as normal fare. Once there was a pub; now there is a restaurant. The car park attendants used to be mere caretakers; now they are concierges. These changes all reflect the changing resident population’s tastes and expectations.