At the start of the novel Winston is in his apartment gazing out at the city in which he lives, "This, he thought with a sort of vague distaste - this was London, chief city of Airstrip One, itself the most populous of the provinces of Oceania" (p.5). The significance of this section is that as Winston looks out at his home city in its war damaged state of decay he struggles to remember a time when it was ever any different. For some reason he cannot however, and we later find that the reason is that the Party constantly erases the past as it suits their purposes.
Winston can only look out at the miserable landscape of his city and ponder. A simile is used to show the ugliness of the city and the poverty of some of its population, "...and the places where the bombs had cleared a larger patch and there had sprung up sordid colonies of wooden dwellings like chicken-houses?" (p.5). This simile tells us that the city has been affected by war and not yet recovered. In the meantime some of its populace is forced to live in overcrowded, unhygienic conditions (like animals, chickens in this case).