Camden Town's markets are one of London and the UK's most popular tourist destinations, visited by over 100,000 tourists each weekend. Restaurants, bars and entertainment venues contribute to a multi-million pound night-time economy. The area has grown so much that the main tube station is struggling to cope. I fell in love with the area when I was a teenager - it's charms made me want to study locally and then stay in the area.
You don't have stray very far from the main drag to realise that there's another story to the area. There are many stories in fact. But the one most often missed is the sheer volume of people sitting in front of laptops and sketch pads doing creative stuff. Camden Town is home to huge range of creative and media companies which represent a far greater proportion of the economic activity than the markets and nightlife combined. The likes of ASOS (the UK's fastest growing fashion label), MTV, APTN, French Connection, Hugo Boss, Ted Baker and many countless agencies reveal to whole different perspective.
There is of course the ubiquitous app for the area. With a built in discount card call called Wedge. And the 44,000 downloads it's had to date does not surprise when you think of the tourist flows. But when you realise that the app is mainly focussed on regular shoppers and in drawing the office based workers out into the high streets and bye streets you start to see a different picture. Yes the proliferation of chicken shops and betting shops in the southern end of the town tells as familiar a story as the Italian goths and tattoo parlours of the north but something else must be going on.
Further research reveals that leisure only provides 12% of jobs in Camden Town and that offices occupy 60% of the commercial floor space and thereby most of the employment. Also, there are some 24,000 creative sector jobs in the wider Borough of Camden economy and unlike many London boroughs, 16% of all workplace jobs in Camden are held by local residents.
All that said we should not underplay the role the markets and music scene have played over the years. I love taking friends who visit London to Camden markets whenever they visit. Surely the attraction of the place to some of these high profile names and many smaller creative firms is in part because of Camden Town's attraction as a leisure and retail destination. And in turn one assumes that the desk jockeys spend a reasonable amount of time in the pubs, restaurants and shops. It is in fact possible to get a Gordon Ramsey meal, at The York & Albany in Parkway, in Camden Town. Not everyone's eating fried chicken out of a cardboard box. But if you've not tried Market in Parkway, the new Argentine bar, La Patagonia, near Mornington Crescent, or Made in Camden at the Roundhouse by Chalk Farm, you might think so. Particularly if you're coming out of Koko or Proud in need of solid sustenance after midnight.
In fairness the business community in the area, as well as Camden Council, are not blind to this dichotomy. Recent work by the local business improvement district using their own, private sector, funds, matched by the borough and the Mayor of London, is aimed specifically at highlighting the creative sector in order to 'welcome Londoners back to NW1.' This includes a pop up shop scheme that actually takes on leases so as to have some influence over future retailers in the high street; a hub for some 120 entrepreneurs provided free of charge in return for a couple of hours a month helping out with the cause, and a fellowship programme helping graduates into work or start up or work experience in the creative sector, all combined around a streetscape revamp of the Mornington Crescent junction.
Camden Town, Camden Road, Chalk Farm and Mornington Crescent all have their own identities and like so many parts of the capital are help in affectionate regard by many locals. But the international brand that is Camden, which can be tested easily by telling any non-local you work in Camden when you mean Hampstead of Covent Garden, has a way to evolve before it automatically recalls visions of hipsters again. What's perhaps quite surprising is that if you dig a little below the surface all the elements that make up 'trendiness' in an area, however you define it, seem to all be in place in Camden Town. It's just hard to see them with all those punks, goths and tourists in the way.