Cluster luck: creating London's Ukulele Quarter
In the world of town planning it is called agglomeration – the way that shops selling similar goods deliberately cluster together, thus benefitting from reduced economies of scale. These agglomerations come in many forms – the western half of Oxford Street, for instance, with its four huge department stores all in a line. You could say that any food market is an agglomeration, or the museums of South Kensington, or the music shops of Denmark Street's Tin Pan Alley. At their best, these are wonderful natural antidotes to the bland non-places of contemporary urban planning, as described in a brilliant new book, 'Ground Control' by Anna Minton.
Time Out’s HQ is located in the middle of one of London's best-known agglomerations – the electronic shops of Tottenham Court Road. But it’s the smaller examples that interest me, the easily overlooked ones that feature only a couple of unlikely looking retailers and haven't yet been adequately christened. In America, they celebrate their clusters by giving them brilliant names like the Meatpacking District or the Garment District, and I think it’s time London took the same approach with its less obvious, more interesting agglomerations. (I may have whinged before about property developers insidious habit of giving established historic areas ridiculous new names in a pathetic attempt at rebranding but this is different because I am a hypocrite.)
So, cutting to the chase, here are a handful of London clusters and what they should be called. Feel free to drop these into everyday conversation – ‘Do you want to meet in that gay café in Koreatown’, for instance – so you look more edgy.
The Comic Strip
The area south of the British Museum where you’ll find Comicana, Gosh and Forbidden Planet. Not actually a strip, but graphic novels aren’t actually novels. Check out this great map of the comic shops of the West End.
The three Mexican restaurants (well, one is a stall) that are in close proximity around Goodge Street. So called because if you mapped them, they would look like a tortilla chip (also known as a triangle). First blogged about here.
Parade of shops on St Giles High Street behind Centre Point that is almost completely occupied by Korean restaurants and caterers, except for a newsagent and, curiously, a gay cafe.
The teeming Spanish bars and tapas joints of lower Hanway Street (there’s only two now, but there used to be loads. Well, three). Alexei Sayle mentions it in passing here, but this is a more evocative description.
The Ukulele Quarter
Okay, so it’s just one shop – the Duke of Uke off Brick Lane – but imagine how cool it would be if we could direct tourists to London’s Ukulele Quarter? Believe London, and we can make it happen.
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