Earlier today I submitted my first ever research project, which was unsurprisingly also my longest piece of work. My dissertation tried to answer ‘To What Extent does Gentrification lead to Neighbourhood Change? From London to Manchester’. My answer, a lot. Unfortunately, my dissertation and all the academic work in the world is useless unless our politicians act upon it because those affected by gentrification-induced displacement need laws, not empty promises about affordable housing quotas.
I choose to use the above picture not to scapegoat the two culturally innovative Irish entrepreneurs, but to illustrate how extortionate Shoreditch rents (similar sized shops in the same area fetch for around £30-£40k per year) may leave them with little choice, but to sell a small bowl of Shreddies for £2.60. We need to remember we live in a capitalistic society, that’s why I think the protesters who vandalised the Cereal Killer Cafe last year, in the name of anti-gentrification, are picking the wrong fight as their anger should be directed towards the government in the hope they create legislative change.
I always had an idea that gentrification was all about money, mainly who could make the most money regardless if it fundamentally changes people’s lives. However, it was only whilst writing and further researching the topic that I discovered culture has a large part to play in understanding gentrification. Consumption cultures can be seen as a cause of gentrification, as middle-class tastes (whatever these really are) are often accommodated for in areas seeking urban renewal since middle-class people have greater spending power.
On the other hand, cultural innovation is an effect of gentrification, as places going through gentrification often do not immediately accommodate for quirky, artistic and culturally innovative spaces, so the hipsters already amongst the original residents seek to carve out their own space seen over the years in East London’s Brick Lane, and Manchester’s Northern Quarter. Funny, or just ironically enough cultural innovation attracts consumption by middle-class people which further gentrifies areas, thus the cycle continues.
Regardless of the potentially innocent intentions of both consumers and producers of culture, eventually “capital captures culture”, meaning capitalism will always find a way to monetize, systemize, and drain the last drops of original creativity from urban areas.
Sounding quite bleak right, so what can be done? Unfortunately, the rest of this article, my dissertation, and all the academic work in the universe is useless unless our politicians act upon it.
My dissertation wasn’t really focussing on the solutions, but from what I have seen, I believe a holistic approach needs to be taken to prevent and reduce (what my dissertation focussed on as having the most significant influence on changing neighbourhoods) gentrification-induced displacement. Housing associations have been used in the past to provide ‘affordable’ housing for working class people; there have been effective protests gaining a lot of media attention such as the E15 Mums; as well as an increase in media coverage on the topic and academic literature.
My inner cynic thinks it is all useless because those affected by gentrification-induced displacement need laws, not empty promises about affordable housing quotas.
I think if the government really want to solve this issue then they need to take action by creating legislation that protects the rights of those vulnerable to displacement-regardless if they own their properties or not.
Maybe there could be a pre-determined percentage guarantee to accommodate working class residents in all future property developments ( both public and private), or maybe excessive profits (set by a pre-determined percentage) made by private property developers can be re-invested into social and affordable housing; or maybe councils can include projected increases in land value for a set amount of years in the sale price of development sites, and reinvest these profits into social and affordable housing.
I’m no UK public policy expert or government legislator, but it doesn’t take a genius to realise whatever, if any, top-down solutions the UK government attempt to make about reducing displacement must have a truly represented input from the grassroots, especially those who have been displaced or are currently at risk.
As mentioned earlier, I know gentrification is all about money, and the process seems almost impossible to avoid in a capitalistic society, but if the government truly wants to try and make amends for its shambolic housing policy, let’s pray they stop selling us out.
If you feel, about this issue and want to see real change then why not contact your local MP and make your concerns heard.
Chijioke Anosike TWN Editor