Is Gentrification a Form of Social Cleansing?

March 13, 2016

Photograph: Flickr, kylaborg

In the three years I have been out of London and at university, things have changed immensely in my area of Hackney, East London. There is a new library in Dalston, of course, attached to some new fancy high-rise apartments and a Starbucks. Across the road from this library is an equally tall new chain hotel. Behind this hotel is a new ‘outdoor food court’, selling so called ‘street food’. A walk away is another block of high-rise apartments being built – apparently they are affordable at £400,000, a piece. Along the strip of Dalston Kingsland high street, which now stretches and brings together the liveliness of Stoke Newington all the way down to Shoreditch High Street, is a new array of clubs, bars, microbrewery pubs and shops that cater to a populace that would never have survived over 5 years ago. A bombardment of gourmet-esque breakfast café’s selling overpriced artisan bread and vegan brownies, bicycle hubs and the obsession of brewing home-made Cider in London Field’s is what has become a yuppie’s wet dream. And all of this, for some reason, seems to be occurring in Hackney and other so-called former inner city area’s in London, such as Peckham and Brixton. Unfortunately, all of these aforementioned incidents are either a side-effect or direct cause of gentrification.

Regardless if it’s a disgruntled acknowledgement gentrification clearly has its benefits. Those who have lived in Hackney for more than ten years cannot deny the positive effects on the area. Crime is a problem I have directly noticed. The stark comparison between gang-activity 6-10 years ago to now is proven. The streets are safer, to some extent – Hackney Council reported that crime rates have reduced by 30% since 2003. Furthermore, as with the generic benefits stated that arise of gentrification, there’s new public facilities such as the London Field’s lido and the Dalston CLR library. Particularly, there has been a huge rise of housing redevelopments and an increase in new business activity, which in no doubt would benefit the local economy. A key question here when considering these benefits is, who really benefits from this situation? In my mind, only three groups benefit: the gentrifiers (ultimately the middle class), the local government and property developers and investors – none of which really need help the most, who are the original inhabitants of the inner city areas.Gentrification, unfortunately is not a new phenomenon. The term was coined in the 50’s to describe areas where the working class were being pushed out by the middle class in places like Islington, North London. Since the 50’s, we have arguably and considerably developed our norms in society in terms of ‘equalizing’ groups of people. Forms of discrimination such as racism, sexism and attacks on religion and sexual orientation have been outlawed (although much of this is open for debate). So why, given the current pseudo-utopia, is there a lack of questioning the underlying problems with gentrification – the problem of social cleansing.

Displacement is a huge problem and the original inhabitants of gentrified areas suffer. There’s more demand, obviously. But the people, the working-class people are priced out in both their homes and their businesses (in which they usually do not relocate). The lack controls of increasing rent prices mean that people have no other choice but to move further away from the city. They can no longer afford the rent – and guess who can? The middle class people causing the surge in demand. Of course, new housing redevelopments are built by local councils or permitted by them by private vendors, but these do not benefit the original inhabitants. It would be outrageous to suggest that a £400,000 apartment is an affordable home for a working class, low income person. Instead of building affordable housing, councils further perpetuate a form of social cleansing of working class people out of London by offering them new, affordable homes – outside of London. It’s conflicting to me how such a task is allowed to occur – and yet it is happening and justified.

On top of forming a social divide in classes, where perhaps a city like London will no longer have enough working classes in lower paid jobs to literally uphold the city – one of the greatest features of such a city is devoid. The cultural elements that make London and in particular make such areas distinctive are ruined. London is known for being multi-cultural, inclusive you may say. If we keep redeveloping areas and dislodging the people who make the culture, that make the city – what will we have left? High-rise buildings, middle class people and artisan bread. There will no longer be anymore culture left in London to give – a reason why people wanted to come and see it, experience it and live it.

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