Penelope Lively’s City of the Mind, really expresses a point of view of London that most seem to overlook. And in two words that would be “big business.” This concept of doing what is right morally and what is right for “business” goes hand in hand in the mind of Architect Matthew Halland. On one instance, he is definite on his morals not to evict the residents out of their homes and destroy sites of such history for it would be a terrible thing to do. On the other hand, he is almost left with no choice to some extent due to the ruthless harassment he receives from the evil, developer who will stop at nothing to make poor Matthew reconsider. In our reality, (which I would soon later found enough evidence from my excursion to the Museum of the Docklands in London), these ruthless tactics would result in the homelessness of over 50,000 people, throughout the 1980’s. But it is not just about the people who reside in these buildings but the history these buildings have to offer.
An example of this history being demolished can be seen in Chapter three, when Matthew has a bit of banter with one of the construction workers. The passage starts off when the narrative depicts:
“Matthew stopped to peer through the peephole in the woodwork, to find himself eyeball to eyeball with a helmeted construction worker, who opened the gate.” …”Looking for someone?” “No. Just curious. [Matthew]” …”There was a wasteland of mud, the bulldozers backing and biting.” …”What’s all this going on? [Matthew]” …”Paved precinct. Shops and that. We’re taking the bodies out. [Construction worker]” …”Bodies? [Matthew]” …”Churchyard. Thousands of them. [Construction worker]” …”Where will they go? [Matthew]” …”They’re to be re-interred in a big cemetery out Wembley direction. [Construction worker]” (37)
Now I have nothing against cremation but if these bodies were buried in this churchyard that is most likely a burial under their final wishes. With that being said, it shows a disrespect for the dead in this churchyard by moving them as if they were pieces of trash that need to be brought to the dump. This also takes away the historical value this churchyard may have in the local area in London where it is being bulldozed. And for what for the profit of commercial value over historical! It is really shows the audacity of ruthless developers and businessmen. And I do agree we need commercial development to take place in order to have the cities themselves accustom to their citizens. On the other side of the coin development can damage the lives of the residents and the history that resides in their area.
In the end, the development of London’s Docklands region was an example of the negative side of development more so than the positive side of development during the time the novel was published. Forced evictions, increase in homelessness, increase in poverty were just a few of the problems that resulted from this development project. However, the point of this post is to show that things have changed through the utilization of looking what it was like in Lively’s time. And the area (since 1997 at the earliest) has been reviving into top financial districts with Canary wharf and its boardwalks, museums, restaurants and pubs galore. Despite the crookedness behind these developments, it did help build an area that, historical value or not was, slowly dying economically and that is what might have brought the Docklands wharf to the greatness they’re at right now.