The Secret History of our Streets: Deptford High Street, shown on Wednesday, has attracted a lot of local attention. It told a compelling story, and an important one both for reminding us of the human cost of such development schemes and for understanding how today's Deptford was shaped. UK viewers can watch it here until 18 July 2012. You can also order a booklet accompanying the series here.
There has been a range of responses expressed on Twitter, on the BBC's website, and in local blogs. Generally, the reaction to the key part of the story - the often-unnecessary demolition of terraced housing and the effect on those whose community was broken up - has been positive. However, various reservations have been expressed by local viewers, particularly about whether ex-councillor Nicholas Taylor was portrayed fairly, and about the way the modern High Street is depicted.
For a thoughtful analysis of the first issue, see this Crosswhatfields? post. The second issue is addressed by The view from Nunhead Station and Brockley Central. (Updated: and by Deptford Dame.) Many of these points resonate with me: some time was given to depicting the area's present in a way which doesn't reflect reality. As well as the pound shops and betting shops (and goodness knows there are too many of the latter), Deptford has thriving grocers' and butchers' shops, Caribbean bakeries, Asian supermarkets, an independent hardware store, restaurants, cafes and pie-and-mash shops, theatre, library, art galleries, the beautiful St Paul's Church, and much more. In painting a simplified picture of an area which went into sudden and irreversible decline, the programme did us all a disservice. In particular, its association of that decline with the arrival of immigrants made me uneasy.
It's ironic that having established how town planners falsely painted a negative picture of the area, the programme-makers went on to do the same. As Deptford continues to face challenges from developers and others, we need to counter that by showing there is something worthwhile here which shouldn't be damaged. Viewers of the programme might struggle to believe it.