My very first experience of gentrification came when my childhood park which all the kids named the ‘gladiator’ park and adjoining football pitch ‘the cage’ was bulldozed over to make room for rubble that would come from knocking down the block of flats attached to mine.
When I say, my childhood was literally erased, I kid you not.
All I could think of was ‘Why?’.
Admittedly reflecting on those days, the estate that I grew up in and still live in was nowhere near as stylish or safe as its current model. With its sky-high concrete exterior, the constant grey became a part of me. A place where despite it’s association to crime and general bleakness was home to childhood friends, juxtaposing blossoms trees and spaces to play- a true concrete jungle. I became more conscious of time and grew sadder when the realisation that friends and families that I had known for years would soon be gone. This sadness was made even more worse by the realisation that they would not be re-housed in the area but further afield. I think for me this disruption to life was what ignited my overall distaste for the growing wave of gentrification happening. The fragmentation of community meant that the days of knowing your fellow neighbourhood resident had been lost.
“Six Acres is a lot better than it used to be,” the caretaker there told me. “I’ve worked on estates all over Islington, and you used to keep your head down here. Now you get a lot more residents coming out after dark. People seem to get on better.” A young mother in a ground-floor flat did not quite agree: “All the fences make it harder to say hello to people you know in other blocks”.
The addition of new luxury apartments to replace what was lost has brought into the area a new crop of people. An area largely made up of ethnic minorities of African and Arab decent and white working class, has now gotten a new group of people – predominantly young white professional couples renting for the first time or middle-class families looking to buy a home.
No doubt attracted to the impressive regeneration of its neighbouring council flats, where concrete exteriors have been softened and brightened with a smooth cream render that is strikingly free of graffiti. The well-tended flowerbeds, absence of litter, CCTV cameras and new green communal areas have created the illusion of safety.
Are we really safer?
I say this because although many regeneration projects on social housing inevitably raises the profile of the area – often gentrified areas meet poor people’s needs less well. As shops become posher and more niche silent social barriers are created, only deepening tensions between old and new. One way in which I can present this to you is through policing; an estate not that from the notorious ‘Andover’ estate characterised by its crime and violence is bound to attract its perpetrators to less policed zones. Where possession of a Class B drugs such as weed would automatically mean arrest, if you were a typical young black man on road – is a completely different story for their white counterparts; especially if your chilling in the sun with a glass of wine.
No tea, No shade.
These kinds of disparities I believe only fuel crime displacement and therefore does nothing to tackle the underlying issues; as I found out recently when my brand-new iPhone 8 was stolen on Boxing Day by kids on a motorbike – my first experience of face to face crime in my 21 years of living here.
A subtler, yet, equally frustrating experience is the lack of inclusion for the already existing community. My recent ventures going into the newer restaurants up and down the Finsbury Park station area made me feel excluded. As one of London’s predominantly Muslim communities, none of these restaurants provided halal or kosher meat options. How much more blatant can you be in your absolute lack of business ethic than not being able to cater to a predominant group within the community. Whilst at the very same time these communities are told over and over again in the media to integrate more into British life. Let’s maybe start with the basics of being able to cater to all dietary needs of your fellow neighbour.
I mean that’s the least of the worries of generations of residents feeling like outsiders; but it’s an example that plays in part to the increasing social narrative of US v THEM in Britain’s social and political climate.
Hailing from the man in red Mr. Jeremy Corbyn’s constituent I remember Jezza being a voice of the people before the regeneration –
“@jeremycorbyn I’m v concerned about plans for ‘regeneration’ of Finsbury Park area in Islington. Socioeconomic cleansing. Unjust, anti-life”.
And has continued his support to represent its residents over concerns raised by local business owners on Fonthill Road, who fear they will be pushed out because of the City North development worth £220million which was first announced in 2014 and is scheduled to be completed at the end of 2020. Corbyn was quoted as saying “My worry is that it’s just going to disappear. This is a fantastic road for the community and I’m here to support them during the building work and try to get some rate relief and also get them an advertising campaign to get people into the shops.” I have faith in the man, but history has almost always shown that at some point the valiant fight of the people always falls short to greed, policy and false promises.
The ends are indeed changing and who knows what the future holds for the man in the streets. I’m not saying that re-generation /gentrification whatever you want to call it is the complete evil in today’s society, it does have its pros – but if we start to weigh up the pros and cons, the scales wave in favour of the cons.
So how do we solve this?
There’s no easy solution to dealing with the problem, said Dr Alasdair Rae, an expert on urban deprivation based at the University of Sheffield back in 2016 to the ‘Independent’ – “But building more affordable homes, developing a genuine anti-poverty strategy for inner cities, and recognising the uneven impacts of austerity across the country would be a start”.
NOURA A. SHEIKH