THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON GYPSY GENERATION BY AMANDA SIMMS
Gentrification is something that occurs in cities the world over. It constitutes the renewal and redevelopment of urban areas, ultimately leading to the middle classes displacing the lower. Generally, the scenario goes as follows; alongside young and creative types mobilizing themselves according to what their budgets can afford, start-ups, creative industries and the like take advantage of lower rent prices as well. But as an area begins to transform, rising rent prices drive those with lower incomes out and other companies looking to cash in on its reputation swiftly take over. Each city has its own story of how and where gentrification takes place. In London, the historically diverse and multicultural East End is where it’s at.
Artsy Shoreditch and curry-shop lined Brick Lane are in the latter stages of this process. During the 90′s the nightlife, music and art scenes saw the area explode, turning the working class ex-industrial area into the place everybody wanted to be. Over the years, the scene has quickly been pushed further east into Hackney and southward across the river. While some of the character that made this East End area special in the first place is still here, it’s becoming hard not to question of how much longer it’ll hang on for.
this stylized edginess has something really hollow about it. It recycles rather than creates.
For starters, more and more chain stores are latching on to the area. If you wander around central London, you’ll see a handful of shops repeating over and over. Pret a Manger and Starbucks are notorious for sometimes featuring several times on one street. Now, these familiar names are springing up around Spitalfields, while upmarket vintage stores are now on the street-art and curry-shop lined Brick Lane and trendy pop-up mall Box Park hosts the likes of Vans, Nike and the North Face. There is a clear effort to imitate the underground, artistic influences of the region, but this stylized edginess has something really hollow about it. It recycles rather than creates.
But there is only so much you can do against businesses with debatable scruples and financial clout.
So is this process a natural progression, or is there anything we can do about it? My first instinct would be to say that Londoners are too complacent– however, the recent opposition to halt a £120 million development shows otherwise. Southbank Centre, a grey Brutalist landscape and major tourist attraction, sits south of Central London and is also home to a world famous and revered skate park known as home of the British skate culture. Even though it is a rare example of a non-commercialised space, the council would rather see the cultural landmark turned into high-end rental units. Following a campaign born from support from the undercroft, these plans have currently been delayed. But there is only so much you can do against businesses with debatable scruples and financial clout.
Paris is becoming largely homogenous; a posh, soulless playground for the elite.
If nothing is done, there’s danger that London could end up a case like Paris. Despite its longstanding decadent reputation, there was room for all kinds of people. Previously, the rich would move on completely from one region to another and others would be able to claim the space left behind. Instead of swapping though, they now expand. With escalating property prices allowing inherited wealth and overseas buyers to take over, few ordinary Parisians can live anywhere close to the centre. Paris is becoming largely homogenous; a posh, soulless playground for the elite.
Then there is the case of Berlin, where people are fighting back. Through defacing statues, breaking storefronts and political graffiti, different groups are sending out strong messages and igniting debate. While such direct and destructive action could hinder the movement’s reputation, other groups are helping local tenants fight eviction – one of which led to a violent riot leaving ten police injured. Others take to squatting as a form of protest, helped by robust tenant rights. Even then, it’s not stopping gentrifying development. Despite 6,000 people blocking demolition crews from removing part of the Berlin Wall last spring, they returned during the night and continued with their plans for a luxury development.
we need to ask why it is important for areas to retain their character and whether cities should solely be for the rich.
Is there an example of a place where gentrification “works”? It seems as if emerging urban culture eventually self destructs. So, should we accept it? It can obviously be a good thing for areas to evolve. Instead of benefiting the existing population though, it entails alienating and displacing, inevitably leading to evictions and dissolved communities. In a culture that places value primarily on money, it is hard to see this fate unfolding differently. It seems unless there is major action, then Shoreditch, the heart of East London, is en route to becoming an identikit region – like Putney High Street – where you could almost be anywhere. If we want to argue and fight against it properly, then we need to ask why it is important for areas to retain their character and whether cities should solely be for the rich.