Welcome to London, the largest city in the UK and one of the most diverse places to live in Europe.
The UK’s capital covers a total area of 1,572 sq. km (607 sq. m) with a population density of 5,197 Londoners per sq. km, making it the largest city in Europe.
Unique in that London itself is one of few cities within the UK that arguably embodies “multiculturalism” like no other. So diverse, London is home to people from different financial backgrounds and ethnic origins; with more than 300 languages spoken by the 8.1 million people currently living in London. Multiculturalism – though frequently challenged as a social concept – is inherent across London’s society.
London is a beacon of hope and an example to the rest of its European neighbours. In London, you will certainly meet people of different races and religious faiths in your everyday life. The prevailing atmosphere of life in London is one of coexistence and tolerance.
The enormous cultural sector doesn’t only make London an attractive place to live but is of course also a major employer; whilst London’s commercial creative industries contribute considerably to the UK economy. With well-established links between culture and commerce, London attracts artists and people with ideas at the same time as entrepreneurs and investors looking for creativity and innovation. The city’s 12 official specialist Arts Higher Education Institutions and world famous financial district undoubtedly play a part in creating this hub of cultural and business activity.
Doesn’t that sound like a haven of equal opportunity!
Although most of the above rings true for many, but the truth behind London’s flying flag of multiculturalism, tolerance, acceptance and that good stuff is simple: British politeness.
By default, London must be that Symbol of Equality- If not for London where else right?
Unfortunately, the reputation of UK’s capital as the land of opportunity is counteracted by London’s growing population. With more and more people planting their feet in London, the need for space has reached an all-time high leading to the rise of developers ready to feed the ‘Supply and demand’ chain. With this growth in the private sector since the start of this current century, only means where there is profit there is opportunity and vice versa; And what better way to make profit than in the property market.
One of London’s most notable markers is its ever-changing skylines. Filled with flying orange cranes to give any commuter a heart attack when passing underneath, or the scaffolding seen on almost every street cements further ‘a change gon’ come’.
So, where are these changes happening? – The ‘ends’ of course!
Outside of what you would typically expect in the heart of any mainstream city in its maintenance of its bougi-er areas, is the rise of building projects in London’s inner city urban areas. Since 2011, the ends of North, South, East and West London have seen local authorities cleaning up the image of their estates.
According to the 2015 data released by the Department of Communities and Local Government, boroughs such as Barking and Dagenham, Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Lambeth, Camden, Greenwich, Haringey, Islington, and Newham have seen a marked decrease in the number of areas classed as the least deprived in the past decade.
It doesn’t take a genius to realise that both the scenery and people are different in places such as Brixton, Shoreditch, Walthamstow, Acton and now Finsbury Park.
This to me indicates that not only are they making these areas ‘pretty’ but presenting a culture shock to its residents of 20 plus years; and what’s worse these shifting tectonic plates are forcing people to move out of their homes – willingly or not.
Having spoken to many people across London, the overwhelming baseline is that people are being forced to move out from their inner London homes. The gentrification occurring in these areas means rising housing costs, for which anybody on a low income would not be able to afford; including young people, the working class, skilled migrants and the list goes on.
So, what happened to affordable housing?
To put it simply, local authorities stopped building council housing despite the growing population and private property developers /contractors swooped in.
Since the introduction of right-to-buy in 1980 by Margaret Thatcher, neoliberalism has come to dominate all aspects of economic and social policy. Council housing and its tenants have been undermined and side-lined with the number of council homes built reduced significantly and no long-term solution to the reduced number of social housing available to the most dispossessed.
Continued by new labour further changes came together in a drive towards removing housing from local government ownership and control. Council housing was handed over to newly created quasi-private bodies, such as arms-length management organisations and tenant management organisations, or transferred en masse to housing associations. This was justified by claims that management of social housing would improve, bureaucracy would be done away with, and responsiveness to tenants would increase.
Obviously, that didn’t really pan out well now did it?
With growing resentment in recent years over the lack of affordable housing, with traditionally poorer parts of London becoming gentrified by middle-class families seeking to buy their own homes, has provoked a series of protests in Camden, Brixton, and Brick Lane.
A consequence of the growing private-public partnerships and of the accompanying decades of disinvestment in housing policy, are now being seen across London. It is not simply the levels of inequality we see in the city on a daily basis, but the growing resentment and ‘tolerance’ of tenants of social housing treated as problems to be managed, with no voice and little respect.
The most notable to-date being the public outcry against the UK government’s response to the tragedy of Grenfell Tower. I will never forget that day – a symbol of working class urban living being side-lined and ignored, and the result was damning.
Why do I care so much? – Well if the above alone didn’t make you go ‘this isn’t right’ then read Part 2 of my experience of gentrification.
NOURA A. SHEIKH-