London: but on Google Maps

Photo by MORAN on Unsplash

Last academic year I took a module that encouraged engaging with the modern architecture of London to supplement our understanding of how London has evolved throughout time. Unfortunately, before the final assignment of the module, the Covid-19 pandemic started. This meant that travelling into Central London, in order to ‘see the sights’, was not an option, as it violated Boris Johnson’s hour of outdoor exercise a day. The module staff suggested using Google Map’s street view, instead of physically visiting these locations.

This got me thinking. On March 7th 2019, the Youtuber known as Disrupt spent a week in VR, with no interruptions. It is a video I implore you to watch.

So, I thought I would try my own mini, and much less impressive, experiment over the course of the lockdown. Whenever I got bored of walking the same handful of routes at my local park, I would go home afterwards and spend some time in google street view, just exploring and setting aside some time to scratch that natural human itch for exploration.

I know my own area of London pretty well, including Central. So I decided to spend some time in North West London, which I don’t know too well. My method was to randomly drop google street view into one of the areas I was interested in. The first location I arrived at was St. George’s Catholic Church.

https://www.google.com/maps/@51.5588505,-0.3254317,3a,75y,77.49h,94.98t/data=!3m8!1e1!3m6!1sAF1QipPWflPTHKlpX4-gmG1CSRpDepStENCODR1Hooc_!2e10!3e11!6shttps:%2F%2Flh5.googleusercontent.com%2Fp%2FAF1QipPWflPTHKlpX4-gmG1CSRpDepStENCODR1Hooc_%3Dw203-h100-k-no-pi-20-ya145.045-ro0-fo100!7i10000!8i5000

I then moved along the adjacent Harrow road. One thing that struck me was the normality of London in these images. Of course, to think about it you would expect that London would look normal pre-pandemic. However, writing this when the majority of people who pass your house are alone and large groups are nonexistent, not to mention the lines of masked individuals at shops, seeing groups of school kids returning home from school was impactful, albeit with blurred out faces.

Next I randomly dropped into an area near Walthamstow. More specifically, into a Jurassic mini-golf. Normally, places like these would be operating normally and profitably throughout the summer. Over the summer of 2020, they are empty. This fact made seeing Jurassic Golf full of golfers, with no concern for social distancing and no worries about the pandemic, all the more poignant. I couldn’t help thinking about the time lost, spent indoors, with concern rather than relaxation dominating my thoughts.

https://www.google.com/maps/@51.604826,-0.0245178,3a,75y,150.93h,70.33t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sAF1QipN5x6IGMhxPnXhMBbX_Hn9sjejIwuo_eyBwJi9G!2e10!7i13000!8i6500

Overall, the use of google maps to ‘explore’ London provided an opportunity for reflection, as well as a chance to take the edge off feeling so locked up and immobile.

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