Down my way, there’s a bit of a cover-up job taking place. Tower blocks of 1970’s vintage are systematically being swathed in scaffolding and plastic sheet, hidden away for months, to be eventually disrobed of their temporary clothing to reveal an outward transformation.
Ugly concrete blocks become colourful, sleek high-rises; dirty, weathered windows become fashionable and clean, whilst unappealing and utilitarian façades have turned into bright and tasteful eye-candy. What were once undesirable complexes of dirty, grey tower-blocks now sport a tasteful and welcoming appearance; but what really has changed?
Dig beneath the outward appearance and modern cladding and you’ll find that the structure of these buildings hasn’t changed at all. The old walls and pillars are still there beneath the cosmetic niceties that modern building techniques have employed to hide what lies beneath. At the heart of all that fresh paint and gleaming windows you’ll still find what is essentially a 1970’s concrete tower block, in all its ugly brashness.
And inside the insides, you will find the people who live there. What difference does dressing up the outward appearance make towards improving their lot? I suppose, if nothing else, dressing a place like that up can have an effect on people’s esteem and pride – it can make them feel good about their environment and care more about it, but what really makes a difference is when those external, cosmetic, improvements are supplemented by real efforts to improve what’s on the inside too. And, to be fair, that’s exactly what’s been happening in those tower blocks: Whilst the builders have been busy outside, the internal fixtures and fittings have been upgraded too – new electrics; improved plumbing; re-vamped lifts; better lighting and internal decor – from the point of view of the tenants, they might as well be living in brand new apartments.
Yet the structure remains essentially unchanged – it is still, underneath all the glitz and glamour, a 1970’s concrete tower.
The work that has been undertaken on these buildings has given them – and the people who live in them – a whole new lease of life. What were once ugly eyesores, a blight and a blot on the landscape, unloved, unwanted and probably destined for the caress of the wrecking ball in the not too distant future, will now stand proudly for far longer than you would have given them previously, and they’ll provide a pleasant environment that will enhance the lives of the people who live in and around them – and all at a fraction of the real, and emotional cost, of relocating residents, demolishing and rebuilding from scratch. Clever stuff – and it works.
All of this puts me very much in mind of SL, because a very similar process has been taking place for the past couple of years, and many of us haven’t even noticed. This is partly because a huge number of us are still of the mindset – and I’ve no idea why – that still subscribes to the fatalistic view that SL is dead or dying and that its days are fast running out, along with a somewhat hard to justify assertion that SL is irreparably broken, barely limping along and so far behind the times that it’s an embarrassment.
However, this really isn’t the case. Like my local tower blocks, there was a time when SL could justifiably have been labelled as decrepit and stuck in the past, but that was before the scaffolding went up. Like it or not, (and there will be those for whom every silver lining has a cloud), over time SL has taken on a new lean, mean and clean appearance – there have been a lot of very visible, high profile improvements in the past couple of years and anyone coming back to SL after an extended break would be impressed with the changes that have been made – if they really are honest about it. SL today is faster, more responsive, more feature rich and more capable of meeting expectations that ever before – it’s just that most of us choose to ignore those improvements. Similarly, behind the scenes, a huge amount of work has been taking place to fine tune the interior ambience – what we tend to call the ‘user experience’. In fact, an awful lot of the errors and problems that people experience with SL today are nothing to do with the platform or the software, but are increasingly a result of sub-optimal internet connections and hardware playing second fiddle to what is becoming a polished and rather clever virtual experience. Yet there are still those who fail to see the bright, shiny, modern fixtures and fittings; instead they choose to stick with the rather warped and inaccurate perception of the SL they know and love to hate – the ugly edifice that they believe they still have to suffer.
In real terms, that concrete tower block is still there – or at least the shell, structure, concept – call it what you will. It is, after all, the framework upon which everything else hangs; but why, if it’s inherently sound and solid, why should the Lab not strip away all the old and broken, unfit for purpose bits and replace them with new? That way, they achieve exactly the same effect as can be achieved by tarting up a tower block – it improves life, and the experience for the residents and the community.
More than this, it extends the life of the whole structure – nobody is going to knock it down before its time, and I’m pretty sure the same holds true for SL too: So I think we can safely put away the mourning clothes and black armbands, SL isn’t likely to be departing this world any day soon… And, if I’m wrong, you can come back here and say “I told you so!”
And you’ll live there forever
And the day that you die
when you’ll go to that
Big high-rise block in the sky
Carter USM – The Taking Of Peckham 123