Once a player always a player? Reflections on Gentrification

 Development and regeneration is sold as a way to ensure improvement for all, however, it does not always have a positive impact on everyone.

Regeneration Case Study: Heygate Estate to Elephant Park

In order to consider how we define gentrification and regeneration, first I want to consider Elephant Park – version 2.0 of the enormous Heygate Estate (once the pinnacle of social housing in South London) which is still under development after 7 years.

Elephant Park in Elephant and Castle is Southwark’s answer to preparing its borough for the increased number of people who are desperate to live in Zone 1 or 2 and are willing to pay up. The development was supposed to improve the dilapidated into a paradise for the tight-knit local community. Many residents who had slowly been purchasing their homes from the council were all of a sudden undercut as Compulsory Purchase Orders were issued by developers, often significantly below market value. Forced to sell at an unreasonable price, huge swathes of residents were instead rehoused ‘temporarily’. This does not necessarily mean short term, it can take years for residents to win a bid on alternative social housing. As a result, many residents have been displaced and forced to migrate into the deep suburbs of London, separating families and friends. (Click here to read more about the legacy of migration).

Heygate Displacement
Map of Heygate Estate leaseholders displacement across London (Southwark Notes, 2018)

The new Elephant Park buildings offer the highest specs for the new occupiers. However, few of the previous residents of Heygate Estate will benefit from the changes as only 25% of the homes will be affordable council housing, which is significantly below the 35% affordable housing minimum that new builds in Southwark.

There are people, organisations, governments that all have an invested interest in the situation; referred to as ‘stakeholders’ or ‘players’. Looking at the Heygate Case Study, the players are easily identifiable: Southwark Council, the property developers, residents of Heygate Estate, local business owners, environmentalists and future residents. When considering the future residents they are described as Young professionals, DINKYs and WASPs, which are explained below.

Once a player always a player?

Young Professionals refers to people working in ‘traditional white collar roles’ such as bankers, lawyers, doctors, and teachers. DINKYs is an acronym of ‘Double Income, No Kids’ which looks at couples with no children. WASPs ‘White Anglo-Saxon Protestant’; traditional professions still have a larger proportion of white employees than those from different ethnic backgrounds (47% of teachers are white), especially at the highest level (ethnic minority doctors less likely to reach high top positions). WASPs, DINKYs, and professionals are the target groups to enter into the new build/developed properties in the previously degraded area because they tend to have a larger disposable income to afford the higher rent or mortgage. Whilst these groups want to live in the developments because of the short commute to work (often in the ‘city’ or ‘square mile’).

Recently I have begun to reflect on by my role in London’s gentrification problem. I belong to nearly all three groups that are often those that move in during gentrification. As a teacher, I hold a traditional professional job. I currently live with my partner (and no children). I am a middle-class White Anglo-Saxon Jew (not Protestant). On reflection I am the type of person who is moving into recently regenerated areas, bringing my larger disposable income to support the hipster cafes and over-priced burger joints. Am I purposely trying to displace the previous residents? No! So why do I do it?

Why does gentrification happen in London?

The UK has a housing crisis. It is expected that as the population increases England will need 245,000 new homes per year until 2031. The problem is that England is only constructing homes at the rate of 107,000 a year.  This is heightened even more so in London where on top of an already huge population you get flocks of eager graduates and young workers desperate to stake their claim on the job market. The result – a large proportion of young people have to pay a significant chunk of their income on rent. This group is known as Generation Rent which is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as ‘A generation of young adults who, because of high house prices, live in rented accommodation and are regarded as having little chance of becoming homeowners‘.  In my current borough, Hackney the average person is paying 70% of their salary on rent. And in Southwark, the location of the Heygate Case Study, residents pay 60% of their salary on rent.

Is there a solution?

Recently a person said to me ‘gentrification results in new people moving in an everything that made that area great disappearing’. The displacement of the people that lived there before, the local quirky places only exist because they live there. Therefore we can combat gentrification, not by restricting a new type of resident from moving to an area, but by ensuring the special elements of that area continue to flourish.

To ensure the continued success of a community one needs to be fully embedded into it. There are simple ways that we can do this:

  1. Talk to your neighbours– regardless of background, class, race etc, it is the people and their quirks that make an area great. From doing this you will be able to understand your community and respect its history and traditions.
  2. Shop Local. Consider the places where you are shopping, eating or otherwise being. Are they businesses that are the structure of the community. For example, buying your food from a local bakery/butcher that has been there for generations over the Tesco’s around the corner. Choosing to go to a café that has a price range and culture that is accessible and inclusive to all residents. If you unsure if you are at the right place ask yourself these questions?
    • Could everyone in the community afford to buy something on this menu?
    • Is there any group that would feel uncomfortable in this area and if so why?
    • Are the employees all locals or are they transplanted, bearded hipsters?
  3. Protecting community spaces. Use the public library, pool, and other facilities and fight to ensure they stay open for all. Where possible invest your time or money into community-focused or run organisations.
  4. Vote. The biggest impact you can have on how your area develops is who is running it. Consider how much affordable housing they are promising to create or protect its residents.

Food for Thought

  • What other ways can we stop gentrification?
  • What do you want for your neighbourhood?
  • Do you have a responsibility to ensure the protection of the neighbourhood?

2 thoughts on “Once a player always a player? Reflections on Gentrification

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