Kingdom Comes to Bexley Heath

May 4, 2011

The arrival at Bexley Heath was by way of a local bus winding through suburban roads from Orpington. Then we arrived at the ‘centre’ of Bexley Heath. This was the ‘centre’ because it was not the centre in the classical sense. The train station that goes by the name of Bexley Heath was a 20 minute walk away and the older retail premises and church were detached from the new ‘centre’. The pedestrianised centre was gleaming and new, the pinnacle at the end being a large T.K.Maxx. The heavily planned retail core was devoid of small premises and instead opted for the large frontages to permit the big box retailers enough room for comprehensive domination of the street scape.

There was also an indoor shopping mall that connected a large portion of the shops from behind; all-weather shopping at its best; come rain or shine. We were not permitted to take any photographs inside the mall by a security guard who recounted how the police had come by to say photographers could be a terrorist threat. Bexley heath reminded me of the novel ‘Kingdom Come’ by J.G.Ballard. This is the story of the shopping mall development that becomes the centre of the community in an outer London area and eventually destroys it through the socially destructive psychological characteristics that it exacerbated in the population. This dystopian suburban picture may be a stretch from the truth on the ground but the static community support officers surveying the space suggested that there were things to be mindful of.

The new Bexley Heath is not adaptable. It appeared to be monolithic disjuncture in the socio-spatial history of the area. Removing itself from the historic core and creating a new centre from scratch. This is not the type of development that lasts or one that create economic success in the long term. Dystopian visions of suburbia are due to places like Bexley Heath. In the long term it is more likely that the roads leading to the station and surrounding the church where the older retail premises are located will come to be more highly valued and adaptable, providing Bexley Heath with the spaces it needs to evolve and change going forward.

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