One of London’s most ambitious projects: a new business district in the South East of London. Canary Wharf is in an area traditionally known as “Docklands”. It’s just the other side of the Thames from the Millennium dome.

Canary Wharf is a place of shiny silver skyscrapers and looks slightly out-of place amongst the medieval streets and Victorian warehouses of the Isle of Dogs. Prince Charles once described Canary Wharf as a ‘Hideous Carbuncle” and a “Blot on the Landscape”. Actually only one of the towers can be seen from a great distance (No.1 Canada Square is 50 stories high). The Canary Wharf towers are impressive by London standards but would hardly worth mentioning when compared to the skyscrapers of Manhattan or Toronto.

Hundreds of years ago Canary Wharf was a thriving harbour community, however by the late 20th century the shipping trade had begun to decline. The Isle of Dogs and the whole Docklands area became very poor.

In the 80’s (at the height of the boom) the government began a project to breathe new life into the whole Docklands area – at the heart of this new wave of development was the Docklands Light Railway and the Canary Wharf office development.

As the boom gave way to recession in the Early 90’s, Canary Wharf became a joke. Of the five original tower blocks built, less than half of the space they contained could be leased. In those days, Canary Wharf was every bit as bleak as the grey warehouses and dockyards had it replaced.

Now that the British economy is booming again, expanding companies eager to secure some growing space are flocking to the Wharf’s abundant office space. It’s a home of many of the biggest Finance, Management Consultancy and media companies. A serious place for serious business people!

Ironically, although Canary Wharf has been designed to be a business complex of the future, it’s actually a much less pleasant place to ‘do business’ than some of the more traditional business districts of London. Bank (in Central London) for example has been a place of commerce for nearly 1000 years!

The wharf is still growing. Recently it’s been connected up to the Jubilee Line, improving access to Central and North West London. There are at least four more tower blocks under construction, and plans for many more. With this development will hopefully come a richer and more diverse community and secondary industries – the sort of thing that most Londoners expect, however this will take time. Until then Canary Wharf is not a particularly good place to work.

Canary Wharf is part of the docklands development in the East End of London. This is on the Isle of Dogs, the inside of a bend in the River Thames.

In Victorian times, there was much bustle, as this was the heyday of shipping. Much of the land was given over to warehouses, and loading cranes were a dominant part of the skyline. Over the years, containerisation of shipping caused the docks to fall into decline, and many of the buildings fell into disrepair.

The area stayed like this until the 1980s. The land - brown field land if ever there was such - became available for a song, for development of offices, residential accommodation and facilities, close to the City of London. Soon the skyline was dominated by a different type of crane.

Property developers quickly moved in, to grab the opportunity. Little did they realise the lack of infrastructure, and the problems that this would cause. It is all very well equipping thousands of homes and offices with telephones, but no provision had been made for that many distinct telephone numbers, especially for offices with direct dial. This was one of the main reasons behind the 1989 restructuring of the London telephone dialling codes from 01 into 071 (inner London) and 081 (outer London). The London dialling codes have since then, changed twice, and are now 020 7 and 020 8.

The developers came close to bankruptcy, but were eventually bailed out by a consortium of investment banks - the Docklands Development Corporation. The role in which investment banks played in the DDC explains why many of them have UK headquarters in Docklands, in particular in Canary Wharf.

More recently, the infrastructure has been improved, including the Jubilee Line extension, which brought life blood to the area. This was a vast improvement on the Docklands Light Railway, which was not originally geared to transport huge volumes of commuters, aiming to travel in to docklands to work.

But, cynics have been eyeing the capacity aspects of the infrastructure, and saying that the facilities will be unable to cope with the demands of the newer towers under construction. The present recession leads to thoughts in a different direction - that Docklands will become a ghost town.

Having worked in Canary Wharf for six months, I can give an opinion of what it feels like. The first impressions are awe inspiring. State of the art modern buildings, convenient public transport and shopping centres combine to appear to provide a conducive work environment. But, I quickly realised that the shops were not normal high street shops, but were catering specifically for a diurnal, office population. It's a great place to buy nick-nacks - leaving presents, or snack lunches. If you are looking for somewhere that sells real food that you cook yourself, forget it. Similarly for bars, restaurants and entertainment; they are geared up for the office party, not for quiet locals.

I wouldn't live in Docklands if they paid me - well, they would have to pay me quite a lot, enough that I could afford to spend most of my time away from the area!

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