East London has long moved on from its industrial “EastEnders” image and has managed to become a haven for bohemians and bankers alike. More recently, the 2012 London Olympics have sparked a major facelift within the region, with regeneration and redevelopment plans turning London’s East End into Europe’s biggest construction site. But there’s an area in the heart of East London, which is largely overlooked on most tourist itineraries: Canary Wharf.
The powerhouse of investment banks and accountancy firms, Canary Wharf began to spring up from industrial wastelands in the late 1980s and had turned into prime London real estate by the early 2000s. Developed by Canadian property firm Olympia & York, Canary Wharf is somewhat like a pedestrianised version of American-style downtown planning but with a distinct maritime feel left from its heritage as the erstwhile biggest port of Europe , which lasted well into the 20th century.
Canary Wharf today, however, is an almost underpriced and undervalued destination within London – despite its fantastic transport connections to the West End (15 minutes on the tube), two major malls and its pristinely manicured landscaping amidst the 15 million square feet of commercial space provided for a daily work force of more than 100,000 in London’s Tower Hamlets council. It is a city within a city and may soon become part of a municipality away from London with Tower Hamlets’ application to be recognised as a city in its own right due to be discussed at the Mayor of London’s office in 2013.
Canary Wharf is privately owned and has its own security force on top of the Metropolitan Police, making it the safest, cleanest and possibly neatest area in all of London. Considering the local amenities and conveniences hotels, short-term lets and apartment sales are running below average value compared to similarly business-focused areas such as the City of London or Vauxhall.
One of the reasons for this may simply be the perceived lack of heritage in the area; unlike Kensington or Mayfair, Canary Wharf may not hold tales of royalty or present any historical landmarks of international value, but this city within a city has more than embraced its industrial history and maintains its naval heritage with landmarks all over the place, most notably at the Museum of Docklands at adjacent West India Quays – a landmark worth dedicating an entire afternoon to.
Another reason for Canary Wharf being overlooked by international travelers may be the fact that it no longer provides any architectural “news”; the Wharf as such is merely expanding as it attracts real estate developers on an ongoing basis. But isn’t a novelty in itself anymore – much like the nearby 02 Arena (the erstwhile Millenium Dome), which remained a bone of contention for many years on grounds of its uber-modern design, but has since become an integral part of London’s entertainment life, just like Canary Wharf itself.
Other new business centres are attracting front-page news in travel magazines, such as London Bridge with its iconic new landmark, The Shard (Europe’s tallest building), or the redeveloped Vauxhall/Battersea area, which has finally entered a new stage in its evolution by selling the near-derelict Battersea Power Station to be developed into a Dubai-style mall, which along with the building of the new American Embassy around the corner is bound to create thousands of new jobs in Southwest-central London.
But the Wharf stands strong and is slowly claiming its rightful place in London’s cultural landscape. With real estate prices beginning to pick up after a long credit crunch slumber, this may be the perfect time to savour the riches of East London’s crown jewel, Canary Wharf, before the ongoing population growth in the area (London’s fastest-growing council) makes this another tight squeeze in London’s property landscape.