Are you to blame? Yes, you. Don’t look shifty, you know you have played your part in this. I saw you in the new organic restaurant and then at the pub drinking that fine craft beer. Yes, I am not surprised you are looking sheepish because it’s people like you who are changing this neighbourhood. What’s that you say? You only wanted to make it look nicer; help the new start-ups? Well that’s the problem. All that seemingly innocuous activity is what’s known as gentrification and it’s a word that’s getting a very bad reputation.
The upgrading of inner-city neighbourhoods by energetic newcomers and city councils is seeing places become transformed and beautified from the US to Australia. But as this happens there is the unfolding of an inevitable series of events as even more aspirational businesses move in, a supermarket that stocks kale arrives, the landlords and property folk spot an opportunity to make even more cash and then? Well the people who used to live here get squeezed out. But is it wrong? Should it be stopped? Isn’t it better to have a good trendy bakers rather than a shit corner store? It’s a conundrum served in sourdough bread.
Here’s a good example. Many poorer communities, the argument goes, are poor because they are disconnected from the wider city. If only there were better subway or bus connections then these neighbourhoods would flourish, is the thinking. Well in London we are seeing the construction of a new rail and underground route called Crossrail that will join up neglected and flourishing spots on the map. It will come into service in 2018. But who will be the winners? Well judging from the ads for brand new deluxe properties around the stations it won’t be just the locals. The new super-connected hoods are going to be going upmarket and the people who have prayed for change will wonder what hit them.
So would they have been better off if they had been neglected, left a bit off the grid? If the streets were swept less it might keep out the gentrifiers but that doesn’t sound like a vote-winning solution.
Yet while the market and local politicians may be able to do little more than shepherd the process it feels like we are at a point where people are willing to make a stand: to refuse to be turfed out of their homes to make way for the new and improved. But while they may have their victories or feel like the election of, say, Bill de Blasio in New York as mayor marks a stand against the gentrifiers, the jury is out on whether anything can really stop the hipsters, tech-ers and global money folk from claiming the city as theirs.
Andrew Tuck is editor of Monocle. Hear more on the cities we live in on his show 'The Urbanist' every Thursday at 19.00 London time.