11 July 2012

Birds of a Feather Flock Together

There are almost 80 ad hoc shops in my study area.  Delineating the area took some consideration -- walking, mapping, counting, reflecting -- but when the dust settled, I found myself looking at an area that behaved very like my neighbourhood when I lived in WC1N.  I lived on Mecklenburgh Square through my first year in London and will return there in September.  Although my flat was towards the eastern edge, daily life pulled me westward, where ad hoc shops are woven around cultural landmarks, educational institutions, and other wide-ranging commercial offerings.

It strikes me how clustered these shops are and how they stick to the thoroughfares -- Tottenham Court Road, Southampton Row, and Gray's Inn Road.  Economies of agglomeration?  I don't think that's it.  The reasons are surely complicated, relating to history, built form, zoning, and shifts in neighbourhood composition.  And I also think they go with the flow; the current locations relate to pedestrian traffic around transit nodes, main streets, and institutions.  The British Museum is obviously a major anchor for ad hoc action and fruit stall vendors told me they would never consider locating away from a Tube entrance.

Although it may seem unsound for corner shops to locate so close together -- take the four at the northern corner of my site, for example -- it seems each specialises as a result.  Some sell lotto tickets; some trade in magazines; some provide produce; some stock newspapers.  Others don't.  Apparently corner shops in the area defy popular convention in at least two ways.  One, they aren't all distributed equally through the urban area to supply residents with daily essentials.  And two, they are seldom found on corners. 

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