Gentrification essays occur when Guardian journalists become sufficiently attracted by an area’s juxtaposition of hardware shops and upmarket delis that they want to go and write there.
There are some upsides to gentrification essays, such as increasing the profile of local businesses. In this case it’s interesting that the businesses which get named and linked to are the upmarket delis and restaurants (Shane’s, L’epicerie, Venetia’s). The “Kashmiri takeaway” remains, sadly, nameless.
But gentrification essays also have downsides, such as the perpetuation of a false dichotomy between “the area’s traditional demographic”:
“On the nearby Clapton Park estate, Chatsworth Road prices are not the only issue. They want useful, everyday commodities available locally – a fish shop, a Chinese takeaway. Sourdough and comté cheese are not part of their grocery lexicon.”
“…who attend arty happenings such as a ‘site-specific event in an old newsagent shop’”.
These caricatures create the illusion that there exist clearly defined, discrete blocks of people incapable of sharing space, shops and aspirations. They are pernicious.
So, how should you respond to gentrification essays if you think you see them in action? There’s very little you can do to stop them happening, so it’s probably best to skip all the cliche and caricature and go straight to the academic’s quote at the end.
“In London, everyone feels like a victim.”
Says Rowland Atkinson from the University of York. Finally, someone trying to bring people together.
Guardian – Chatsworth Road: the frontline of Hackney’s gentrification
Hackney Hive – have been on gentrification for a while, and have a much better comment thread
Snipe – Some things to learn from the nearby, and very flower-ful, Clapton Park poppy estate
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Mike Pollitt is the editor of The Metropolis.