The gentrification of London: Beyond sky pools and cereal cafes
Plus wearable air purifiers and plant-based burgers
The now infamous ‘sky pool’ opened at the Embassy Gardens development last week, and the press reaction was depressingly predictable, with BBC London running a fluffy ‘…and finally’ piece about the “world’s first floating pool”.
At least people were on hand to remind the Beeb that Embassy Gardens is notorious for its class segregation:
BBC News (UK) @BBCNewsSwimmers enjoy warm weather in London at the Sky Pool which is believed to be the world’s first transparent pool built between two skyscrapers https://t.co/mtRX8qvt0a https://t.co/2skTGK9Jp7
But you might have hoped that the conscientiously balanced BBC would have pointed out the shoddy workmanship recorded by the Real Embassy Gardens Instagram account (we definitely wouldn’t be swimming in that pool after seeing images like this).
Or maybe they could have offset the sky pool story with something about the petition to save Deptford’s Wavelength swimming pool (“a treasured resource for children and families in the most ethnically diverse area of Lewisham”).
Or they could have even followed up the pool piece with a look at the report published by the race equality think tank Runnymede (along with the Centre for Labour and Social Studies) entitled: Pushed to the Margins: A Quantitative Analysis of Gentrification in London in the 2010s.
But they didn’t. So we’re going to have to do it instead…
There’s a gentrification formula now
If anyone ever asks you what gentrification looks like, you can just show them this:
Like most formulas, this isn’t as complicated as it looks. It basically says that the severity of an area’s gentrification can be measured by looking at population churn (c), the proportion of non-white residents (e), house sale prices (h), and “the multiple deprivation score” (d). By the way, the deprivation score is an actual ranking given to local areas based on things like income, employment, health, crime etc. If you want to know how your postcode performs you can look it up here.
Sorry, but you can’t just blame millennials or hipsters (or millennial hipsters)
By applying their formula to London’s boroughs between the years of 2010 and 2016, the researchers were able to create heat maps showing how more or less gentrified those boroughs had become over time. Here’s what happened to Southwark (clue: Southwark got really really gentrified).
(If you want to see how your Borough fared you can skip to page 40 of the report.)
By looking at this gradual evolution of gentrification, the report concludes that “the process is galvanised by forces that have become institutionalised throughout the city rather than by the behaviour patterns of individuals or groups.”
Or, in other words, you can’t point the finger at the Cereal Cafe, Frank’s Cafe or even those cafes that serve avocado on toast. In the words of the report: it’s not “hipsters and their emblematic coffee shops [who are] at the helm of these urban processes” (although those things do cause a kind of gentrification loop by “signalling back to council-and city-level actors that a neighbourhood is a developing site of interest for the middle classes”).
Instead it’s factors like the amount of social housing, transport links, and even things like bodies of water and warehouse spaces that “can dramatically change the composition of a community”.
Gentrification is a dick
The reason we think this report is so valuable is that it gets us past that vague notion that ‘maybe gentrification isn’t great for some people’ and objectively shows that gentrification sucks for pretty much everyone other than London’s wealthiest:
“…Working class, Black and ethnic minority Londoners have increasingly found themselves at the mercy of the city’s urban design, its politics, and the movement of capital. For these Londoners, gentrification does not mean artisanal coffee shops and new wine bars; it means being pushed out of areas they have lived all their lives, losing local spaces, and the fracturing of communities.”
The report concludes that “gentrification creates a tenuous environment for working-class life to flourish,” and as “displacement pressures continue to increase, the effect is that working-class communities are dispersed out and relocated to new zones further from the city centre.”
(And if sentences about the working classes being “relocated to new zones” don’t send a shiver up your spine then maybe you’re reading the wrong newsletter.)
If you’re a “2010s hipster in Shoreditch… forced out to Clapton” then you’ll likely survive. But poorer residents genuinely suffer as they lose the ‘social capital’ of their “established localised networks and familiar ancillary goods and services.”
Add in the impact all of this has on our high streets (thanks to the “increase in the number of vacant shops and closure of local businesses”) and the way in which the coronavirus epidemic has “triggered an unprecedented suspension of the full functionality of the city,” then it’s easy to see why unabated gentrification is a pretty nightmarish prospect for anyone who wants to live in a London that “works for everyone - and belongs to everyone.”
We can do something about it
It’s not all bad news. As the report states, “Measuring a problem is the first step towards addressing it,” and the think tank’s first step towards addressing it is a set of five policy recommendations they feel will “contribute towards London becoming the genuinely inclusive city it has always aspired to be.”
Unsurprisingly, four out of the five focus on housing.
The old 50 per cent affordable housing quota was “regularly flouted” by developers, and even though the target is now 35 per cent, it’s not strictly enforced. Cracking down on that would go a long way to creating actual regeneration instead of gentrification.
The report also pushes for “developments owned by the council or local communities” (which would help a lot with the issue of ‘poor doors’), and for rent caps, which the mayor is a big advocate of, but unfortunately has no power to implement.
The authors also call for a ‘right to return’ for “all residents living in estates undergoing regeneration schemes.” Considering that an academic paper from 2019, entitled The social cleansing of London council estates showed that, “Since 1997, 54,263 units have either been demolished or are slated for demolition on council estates of more than 100 units in London; a conservative estimate is that 135,658 households are being displaced,” it's hard to argue with a policy that allows people to “return to the original site of their home in a timely manner or to be immediately rehoused in a nearby neighbourhood.”
This is happening right now
We’ve talked about reports and statistics and recommendations a lot, but this isn’t a purely academic issue. This stuff is happening all over London. And at an increasing pace.
If you read our last issue, you’ll see that Sam Roberts recommended Ridley Road Market as one of his favourite places in London. It has taken years of campaigning by Hackney residents to make sure that market didn’t get swept away, and it seems to be working (for now).
But, the struggle to protect Spitalfields from “a tsunami of soulless corporate development” continues with the Battle For Brick lane campaign.
And of course Soho has been a gentrification battleground for what seems like a decade or more now, with the latest skirmish being over the demolition of 20th Century House.
Meanwhile, after the successful campaign to oppose the eviction of Nour Cash and Carry in Brixton, there’s now a fight on to stop the building of Taylor Tower “an enormous 20 storey tower which will amplify our council’s social cleansing experiment, displacing our beloved affordable market.”
And that’s just the ones we can name off the top of our heads.
We’ll leave you with something fairly positive
A couple of weeks ago the Guardian ran a profile on the film-maker Ayo Akingbade, who creates “enigmatic, uplifting works about housing estates and gentrification,” which are now starting to win awards. An exhibition of her work called A Glittering City is on display at the Whitechapel Gallery until 15 August.
Here’s the very first film Akingbade made, in which she manages to get across her response to what was happening to Dalston in 2015 in just 90 seconds.
And the rest
After the Channel 4 documentary about stop and search (presented by former Spurs player Jermaine Jenas who was himself “stopped by police when he was just ten years old”), the Deputy Assistant Commissioner Amanda Pearson went on BBC Five Live to defend the policy but also admitted that there is a “disproportionality in respect of stop and search, in particular with members of the black community.”
An industrial designer has created a 3D-printed wearable air purifier for the Tube, that’s “designed to remove air pollution from around the user using water vapour”.
Meanwhile, Sadiq Khan has come good on his some of election campaign promises unveiling a new package of measures designed to decarbonise London. They include ways of helping social housing providers access funding for retrofit projects, “new training for the city’s solar workforce,” and an Innovation Partnership that will “make it easier for social landlords and UK building firms to work together to upgrade ageing homes.”
The De Underground record store has received a blue heritage plaque for its contributions to several underground music scenes in the ’90s (and made us feel really old in the process). An hour-long podcast, titled Crate Digging: The Influence of De Underground Records, has also been produced as part of Newham Heritage Month.
There’s a new art gallery coming to Hanover Square later this year. The Pace Gallery will open its new space on October 8 with an exhibition of Mark Rothko’s work from the late 60s, “the first exhibition solely dedicated to this masterful body of work in the United Kingdom.”
Ready Burger is “the new affordable plant-based burger brand” that is “taking on McDonald’s” and it’s just opened in Park Road. The prices are comparable to the those of the golden arches, with ‘The Ready Burger’ going for £1.99 and a classic Cheeseburger at £2.39.
If you were in East London yesterday and heard a loud rumbling noise in the sky, this was to blame:
One of our favourite YouTube channels, Attaché, has taken a break from jaunting around the globe and taken fifteen minutes to look at “how London life has changed during the pandemic,” focusing on “food, drink socialising and transport,” four of our favourite topics!