The Most Exciting Part of Town

When, finally, the bus reaches Old Street roundabout I sigh louder than the pneumatic doors and plod out. Honestly, I despair at my own laziness. It would have been quicker to walk from Soho but I had become mesmerised by the slow passage through the traffic doldrums and so I had stayed put on the double decker
For all of their shiny optimistic brilliance the technophiliac would-be world-changing startups of Old Street have failed to get this basic thing right.
Things that can be disrupted  by Silicon Roundabouters include hotels, pizza delivery, our genetic codes, political debate, civility and social interaction. The thing that cannot be disrupt or even ameliorated: London’s clogged up traffic jams. In fact, the success of the Old Street’s tech startup scene has made it worse.
At the beginning of the mesmerisation I had gazed out of the number 55’s top deck window at the slow death which is Holborn’s perpetually moribund traffic.
Once there wasn’t much reason to travel east from Central London unless you were going to the City for financial dealings or you were heading home. Rare was the traveller going east with a sense of anticipation and excitement. So traffic was lighter.
But now there’s a reason for everyone to head east. It might be the hip bars of Shoreditch or its trendy restaurants. Old School ad agencies want to see what the social media agencies are up to and almost everyone wants to know what the tech startups are doing. Big corporates have read the Innovator’s Dilemma and want to tremble at the seeds of their future demise being sowed in accelerators; The news media want to delight and shock their audience with stories of the latest artificial intelligence or social media absurdity; And story-tellers want to feed the fires of their dystopian nightmares. There is no finer place to do any of this. And consequently the roads are more choked than ever.
I mutter that I should have never ventured so far west (by which I mean Soho). Who would ever have said such a thing ten years ago? Insider knowledge is no help; the traffic cannot be beaten. The sneaky rat runs that used to enable the determined and knowledgable to beat the jams are now accessible to all the Uber drivers who follow their crowd-sourced route-management software. From my top deck vantage point I spy that the back streets around Red Lion Square, for example, are full of Toyota Priuses and Honda Insights. And such cars, as all regular readers and any city dwellers know, comprise the majority of the Uber fleet. Once these roads were the preserve of black cabs whose drivers had learned “the knowledge” the hard way, which is to say they had spent endless days and nights on a 125cc motorbike driving to difficult destinations. But now the minor roads themselves contain Ouroboros-like worms of traffic where each segment is a hybrid electro-petro taxi.
Probably, the quickest way to get home would be to order a Deliveroo and climb into one of those American Fridge-sized backpacks that their cyclists wear and get them to bike along the pavement back to Old Street roundabout.
In any event I stayed true to the bus and have by the start of this article made it back to Shoreditch. Now on terra firma I turn a corner and am caught up immediately in a tour group. Here are more than a dozen people on a street art tour. This is another reason for people to flock to the area. The street art here is world class. Apparently. The pavement is blocked by this group as they pause to take and compare photographs of a stick man painted on a wall next to a cafe. Around the corner is painted the face of a laughing ape with savage fangs.
Such groups as these are not the only ones in this part of town. Other tour groups are more interested in what goes on behind the walls. These are the tours that visit the accelerators,  co-working offices and the more famous startups. These are full of investors and multinationals who are brought on tours by venture capital funds, by the London mayor’s inward investment agencies and even local government officers explaining to administrators from other cities how to create an exciting startup scene.
I take a sharp exit from the human traffic into a cafe. I flip open the laptop and it connects automatically to the wifi, the barista brings a perfect flat white, I start writing and shortly afterwards a message pings. A friend from an old startup is working on something new and wants to exchange ideas. They’re only five minutes walk away so they head over. And like that, all of a sudden, I remember why, damn the traffic,  this is the most exciting place to be in London.
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