The London Evening Standard.

standard.jpgHow Londoners can stay calm as the days Evening Standard begins to appear each day is a mystery. Who could ignore the thrill as a giant system swings into action: as the battle-worn orange and white chevroned vans begin circling the city, side door wide open, bundles of papers tossed out full of fresh news. So much more exciting than the morning papers because it’s happening now. Journalists trailing stories, copy being filed, papers rolling off the press, vans being loaded, delivered right around the corner to where you are. The massed gadgets of gathering and dissemination form a direct route between the day’s events and you. And as the clock ticks, the phrase in the top right corner runs down its mysterious timetable: West End Final, City Prices, Late Prices Extra.

The Standards contribution is much more than providing a news. Actually, news is the least important and certainly the least interesting thing about the Standard. What’s great is its physical relationship to the city it reports on and for.

It’s the greatest contribution to London’s transport infrastructure. As the Tube crumbles and suburban rail disintegrates, as millions of hours dissolve into the underground tunnels and rail lines that snake past the end of countless back gardens. The Standard suggests that the lurching, stop-start links of carriages have become a significant civic site in themselves – after the home and the office, the place we spend most time in the city. And out here is where the Standard comes into its own.

Light, cheap, quick and positive. It suggests an alternative approach to urbanism – how to make things better given the circumstances. A practical utopianism. The mini-kiosks that sell the Standard set up around the mouths of tube stations at lunchtime Their snap-down metal grills frame a sheet of handwriting that’s run hot from the press proclaiming the issue of the hour. The kiosks reveal a parasitic relationship with the gigantic infrastructure of London’s public transport system. The Standard is a lightweight addition to this system that draws strength from its failings. It’s a salve to delays, overcrowding, and boredom.

Its design is related to its site: the tabloid form is (I like to think) not a statement of editorial position (as it is for the morning papers), but designed for the convenience of its readers standing in packed tube carriages. Which, incidentally is why I’m very disappointed by the new Friday supplement – ES plus Hot Wheels packed in a super slippy polythene wrapper that slips from the clamp grip that your employing to hold everything together.

The Standard never seems to make much sense when you get it home. Just like a Kebab, it suddenly loses its appeal on the other side of the front door. Spread out on the kitchen table its magic evaporates and its just another terrible newspaper. It’s only the relationship to the great sprawling city that makes it.

Evening Standard is a paragon of an urban object – negotiating an intimate relationship with a citywide super system. And it also suggests there are new constituencies, new places that things can happen, new ways of making things happen borne out of opportunism, realism and optimism.

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