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Great Expectations: Onward and Upward

As a young man growing up in the East End of London during the 1970s, I recall that some parents had low expectations for their children. Their thinking, our child probably won’t amount to much, given their environment. Why? Prolonged poverty can deplete the human spirit of any hope for a better future.

Throughout its history, the area was known as an affordable haven for poor people and immigrants. East London had developed rapidly during the 19th century. The neighborhoods surrounding the West India Docks the East India Docks and Mill Wall Dock — along the banks of the river Thames — were once thriving communities of tradesmen and merchants.

Over time, during the industrial revolution, the area underwent a variety of changes as mills, factories and light manufacturing plants were built — employing much of the local inner-city urban population.

However, partly due to the dependency on the docklands, the local economy went through a period of significant decline from 1960 to 1980 — when most of the working docks were closed. Unemployment rose, as the trickle-down effect of the closures gained momentum.

Large parts of the community became severely dilapidated and eventually abandoned by the British government and some groups within the commercial sector. Regardless, many of the native East-End residents chose to stay, thinking they had few options.

The area embarked on a slow recovery following the establishment of the London Docklands Development Corporation in 1981 and the onset of the Canary Wharf project.

Tech City Initiative Offers New Hope to East-Enders

There are now plans to develop a multifaceted innovation-driven economy, similar in concept to the Silicon Valley area of California, which will hopefully create the residual benefit of additional indirect employment – meaning, new jobs at other small businesses that aren’t directly involved in the digital economy.

“Our ambition is to bring together the creativity and energy of Shoreditch and the incredible possibilities of the Olympic Park to help make East London one of the world’s great technology centres.” Prime Minister, David Cameron

When you’re invigorated by great expectations, sometimes just about anything seems possible. In fact, achieving a vision of economic vitality is often attained through an unrelenting raw optimism — especially when the recent historical evidence is just the opposite.

That’s why I’m feeling very upbeat about the bold goals for the East London Tech City initiative, and for the numerous people who are actively engaged in making that vision come to fruition.

The following short video includes a street view of the area, taken during my recent visit.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have time on my last trip to London (a vacation, visiting family) to meet with local entrepreneurs. But I believe that the upside opportunity for accelerating economic growth will likely come from promoting the collective attributes and unique identity of the Tech City UK — rather than attempt to mimic the Silicon Valley in America.

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7 Comments.


  1. I must point out two things I really appreciated from your article that I find must be key in our daily activities:

    1. Raw Optimism
    2. Unique Identity

    Both of these in action together really gives any company the forward thinking and vision needed to gain that competitive edge.

    Thank you for posting!

    Caroline

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    • David Deans

      @Caroline, thank you for sharing your perspective.

      The vision of moving forward, particularly when change is long overdue, is perhaps the spark that ultimately takes us to a better place and time. While there’s much to be learned from studying recent history, it’s the fearless dreamers — those who choose to tap into their imagination — that will ignite new or regained passion during difficult times.

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  2. David Deans

    Regarding the economic impact, here’s a quote from a recent Financial Times story – “Central East London’s economy is booming, according to Halifax’s annual local performance review. The report reveals that the previously unfavourable inner-city areas of Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Southwark have seen incredible growth over the last decade. Economic activity per person rose 87 per cent from £17,902 in 1998 to £33,499 in 2008 — reflecting the voracious gentrification that has happened to the region over the last few years, as well as confirming its position as a viable option for investment.”

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  3. Isn’t it amazing how things go round and round. The circle of life exists in economic cycles as well. Even following the stock market is like a roller coaster of tops and bottoms. Those riding too high eventually take a fall and those at the bottom somehow eventually destined for a revival, if as the top poster indicated we have optimism and unique identity.

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    • David Deans

      @David, indeed, being aware of the cyclical characteristics of these phenomena can help us prepare for the next wave of upward momentum. Recognizing opportunity — when we see it — is an important first step, but acting upon that information with belief and purpose is truly the defining moment where we can choose to “seize the day.”
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carpe_diem

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  4. Agreed – the most successful people usually do the opposite of what the masses are doing. “Seizing the day” as you reminded us starts with the awareness of opportunity. What an important first step, just being aware! But then the wheat separates from the chaff when we fearlessly act, despite the fact that our choices may be unpopular or criticized. We in the United States need to recapture our ability to fearlessly think individually, as opposed to group think, and carve out our future. We really do stand at a defining moment in our nation’s history and it’s strong leaders recognizing opportunity in the seemingly darkest moments that will forge us ahead! Thanks for your reply!

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