Thursday, 29 March 2018

Eddington: Cambridge's new Utopia?

I thought it was about time I took a wander round Eddington, a new development on the North Western edge of Cambridge. The University is the mastermind behind it, driven by the need to attract/retain 'key workers' who (like most other people) are finding it increasingly difficult to afford to live in the City in anything resembling decent accommodation.

I arrived via Madingley Road near the Park and Ride which leads into into Eddington Avenue. I followed the cycle path that hugs the road around the edge of the development. This part, some of which was still under construction, was all but deserted. The odd hi-vis workman the only sign of life. The buildings consisted mostly of large apartment blocks, albiet of a better looking quality than a lot of developments. Some obviously already occupied. I felt like I was walking through an updated version of Vera Chytilova's ''Panel Story".

A sign pointed the way to the facilities. I was intrigued by there being a Market Square and imagined there might be a space hosting a decent food market where I could get some lunch, offering an alternative to the ''Superstore" on the sign. Eddington is billed as a sustainable community, discouraging of cars, encouraging of cycling and with BREAM building technologies. So a more sustainable food outlet seemed within the realms of reason.

I left the road, which encircles the existing settlement like a moat. Heading inwards, I passed some buildings which had a large University symbol embossed on the doors. I felt like I was in the future and the past at the same time, the surroundings reminiscent of the sort of University Campuses built in the 60s and 70s, or some of the Cambridge Colleges from that era. Except this was brand new. I saw first signs of non-workman life here, a young man wandering back from somewhere with a cup of coffee.

I continued deeper into the development. Still encountering little sign of life. It was only the newness of the buildings that reminded me I was at the beginning of something rather than the end, it was that desolate.

Oddly, the manhole covers were rusty and appeared aged, add odds with everything else. Maybe they'd got them secondhand in a bid to be sustainable. Maybe they were fashionably 'distressed'. But they did feature British Standard Approved kite mark, which was reassuring.

Soon I found myself in the Market Square. No actual market to be seen. Subsequent internet research suggests there are no plans for any in the immediate future.

The current facilities consist of a largeish Sainsbury's and an Argos. As I entered the Market Square there was suddendly life. People were sitting on the benches outside Sainsbury's eating Pizza and picnicking on stuff they had bought from the shop. This seemed like it might be the only option for sustenance so I bought a sandwich and a drink and joined them.

Sitting on the bench, I noticed everybody seemed very young and middle class. Not surprising in Cambridge I suppose, but I hadn't realised the settlement was mainly populated by post-doc researchers. I'd assumed the University's key workers would be clerical and maintenance staff. The more 'town' end of staff seemed very unrepresented during my brief stay on the bench. No sign of the University's infamous painter Disco Kenny, but I don't think he would thrive in the publess environment in any case.

I saw a Sainsbury's worker come out and smoke a fag. I was half expecting a tannoy announcement reminding people that smoking was not permitted. Thankfully there wasn't one.

Just across the road from Sainsbury's is the Storeys Field Centre, a community centre.

An unusual building, I had trouble finding the entrance. I thought about going in for a coffee, as an excuse to have a look round, but it was a bit busy. Unsurprising, I suppose, it being the only option for a beverage of any sort apart from the Sainsbury's. The centre hosts various clubs and events from Woodcraft Folk and art clubs to gigs. The Wedding Present are due to play later in the year. So are The Wave Pictures, who I saw a couple of years ago after reading that Billy Childish had collaborated with them. Rather than rawkous garage rock, the gig was a quiet and particularly ernest affair, the audience more than the band. Not the rock n roll night out I was expecting. I should have done my research. But hopefully the centre will become another outlet for live music, even if it is of the more sedate variety still a welcome development in a time where the prevailing trend is to close places hosting live music. Not the same as a sweaty back room in a crumbling pub with black walls, but in (post) modern Britain we have to take what we can get.

I didn't manage to locate the 'Swing Sanctuary', which sounded fun but I'm not much of a lindyhopper.

Next to the Field Centre, the University Primary School features a world map on the gates, presumable representative of the international population of Eddington.

Opposite this some seating..

I headed away from this cultural hub, following Eddington Avenue, the only road is had seen. The settlement is aiming to discourage cars and encourage cycling and walking. Separate cycle paths are incorporated into the infrastructute. I didn't see many cars and the distance from Cambridge would make them largely redundant for anyone willing and able to cycle the 2 miles to Cambridge. It seems likely the population of Eddington will remain enterally young and fit enough to make this work. Post-docs move on and the flats (at least the affordable ones) are rented according to salary, which is reviewed regularly. This points to a very transient population. People with children will probably move on on before their kids get to secondary school age, and it seems unlikely many will stay living here into old age.

There are some market rate homes being built for sale. '21st century period homes', no less. I wondered if in 2 or 3 hundred years time a Dan Cruickshank type character would be presenting a BBC4 documentary, praising Eddington's period homes' and trying to defend them from demolition and redevelopment into ghastly 24th century mixed use development.

Maybe these homes would be lived in by a less transient element of the population. Or maybe they will be sold to Chinese investors and Russian oligarchs. Hopefully the University will have done something to prevent this. Ironically, this is the only recent development I can think of that doesn't feature student accomodation, so there is hope.

I headed out of Eddington, passing areas still in development.

I left via 'The Ridgeway', a cycle route leading to Huntington Road and beyond to Girton. I passed this fledgling tree, trussed up and emerging from a builders dumping ground. This seemed both an optimistic and depressing site. Which was sort of how if felt about Eddington. It was Utopian in many ways. Better quality and sustainability credentials than other local developments. A new arts venue. But it had many distopian elements too. All the dwellings appeared to be flats allowing continuing leasehold landlordism,  the few shops are the usual chain stores (so far) and the  area is aimed exclusively at a certain section of the population and essentially a University enclave for transients. A sort of Bar Hill for posher people. But with a more transient and international population being the zeitgeist, at least among the young middle class 'millenial' generation, this could well be the future. Where the rest of us will live I dread to think..

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