I’ve recently spent quite a lot of time walking around the back streets of Baku with a camera, recording the built environment for posterity. A bit of an obscure pastime, I hear you say. Something for someone with too much time on their hands. Perhaps, but Baku is changing so rapidly, that if it isn’t comprehensively recorded now, generations to come will have no idea what their city [away from the bright lights] used to look like.
Today, my self-imposed task might seem an unnecessary waste of time but in ten, or twenty or fifty years, the historians of the future will be able to dip into a unique archive of material that seems commonplace now but in the future will represent a treasure trove of images. As far as I [or Betty Blair of Azerbaijan International Magazine http://azer.com/] am aware, no survey of this kind has ever been undertaken in Baku.
According to Dovletkhan Dovletkhanov, Deputy Chairman of the State Committee for Urban Planning and Architecture, the residential houses in Sovetski and Kubinka areas of Baku have become worthless. “We don’t mean that these buildings will be demolished in a short time. This process needs time for development, and involving of investors” he said recently. Yes, for good and bad, whole areas are being demolished and it’s a shame, because some of them are beautiful examples of the local vernacular style quite apart from being peoples homes!.
The first time I became aware that if you don’t record your environment and the bulldozers remove it, it’s gone forever was when I was about fifteen. My mother took me for a walk around Notting Hill, where she grew up in the 1920’s and early 30’s. A swathe of back streets were being demolished nearby. They were nothing special really, just rows of mid-Victorian terraced houses that these days would be gentrified and sold for hundreds of thousands of Pounds each but back then, just old houses that needed replacing. Yes, and they were replaced by Council blocks, that looked like slums just a few years after construction…
I’ve seen the process repeated again and again during my life. Nice old market towns like Aylesbury and Uxbridge torn to pieces by well-meaning developers and city Councillors in the name of “progress”, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. Large chunks of the City of London, where I worked between 1973 and 1974 were demolished before my eyes. Angel Court, Telegraph Street and the area behind Leadenhall market come to mind. Now the old stone buildings have gone, replaced by anonymous constructions of concrete and glass.
So, I may not be able to stand in the way of “progress” but at least there will be many files, somewhere on the web marked “Old Baku” where the children and grandchildren of present day Bakuians may look back at what used to be and ask the question “why did we do that?”