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.