Gentrification seems to be a bit of a dirty word these days. Now I’m prepared to admit that I’m a bit of a snob sometimes, but I really don’t want to live in an area reliant on payday lenders and pound shops. I want somewhere I can buy nice things, eat nice food, somewhere I’m proud to call home. (For the record, where I live now is not somewhere I’d willingly admit to, being just a stone’s throw from Chav Central). If I can find somewhere where there are lots of little independent shops making a living, providing a bit of decent customer service and making the place a bit more interesting, then where’s the problem with that?
The problem, essentially, is one of money. Larger corporations, such as department stores and fast-food restaurants, have the financial wherewithal to be able to produce goods cheaply enough that those on lower incomes can afford them. It seems to be something of a vicious circle – a sector of the population don’t have a lot of disposable income, so can’t afford to shop in independent shops, so are priced out of the area when the department stores leave. If you like, Gentrification is more similar to Ghettoization than many people would like to believe. It’s been a while since I last read it but I believe that Naomi Klein discusses something very similar in her book The Shock Doctrine.
So far as I can see, the ghettos of old had a relatively stable population that didn’t move about much and often shared a community, either ethnic (Jewish, Hindu, Caribbean) or financial (working class, artisan trades). These days, gentrification seems to involve a more transient community of wealthier people who come in, buy up property, change the retail and trading areas to fit their lifestyles, achieve their ends – and then move on to the next area. Unfortunately, this gentrification means that the stable population who previously occupied that space now cannot afford to stay, and equally often cannot afford to go, forcing them to become increasingly insular. Klein watched this process happen in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, but I’ve seen less dramatic instances in Spitalfields, Margate and Barking; poor, working class areas now becoming the height of sophisticated fashion, the places to be seen, meaning that local residents now have to find somewhere else to go.
It doesn’t sit right with me. Even though I would rather not have the pound shops and fast food chains, they do serve a purpose and so I wouldn’t get rid of them. There must be a way the two can live alongside each other to benefit the entire community – regardless of social status.