The transformation of low-income neighbourhoods to trendy, more upmarket versions of their past selves often comes at an unfair cost for the communities who have resided there for decades.
What is gentrification?
Gentrification can be defined as the transformation of an area to a middle-class neighbourhood leading to displacement of the original predominantly working-class residents. Not only does this change concern the housing market, but it also transforms the social character of an area. The process of gentrification itself is a complex issue and depends on various factors often specific to the context a location, but generally deregulated real estate markets facilitate housing costs being driven up to the extent that the original residents cannot afford to live there anymore. In the process, social housing often suffers and is replaced by luxury apartments.
Gentrification exacerbates inequality beyond just socio-economic status. Displacement has a disproportionate adverse impact on the elderly, ethnic minorities, disabled people and those with mental health issues. Communities, in many cases generations of friendships between families, are ripped apart. For some, adaptation to such a change may prove to be extremely difficult and drive social exclusion.
London is a prime example of the negative effects of gentrification: some of the most up-market areas in present-day London used to be held in contempt. For instance, Notting Hill, nowadays amongst the most upscale areas in London, used to be a slum only a few decades ago. The pattern generally is that wealthy people occupy central London more and more, driving residents with lower incomes further to the outskirts of the city. This means that it is more difficult for working-class communities to access services and jobs in the inner city, demonstrating the divisive force of gentrification. Again, the cost to communities is substantial.
Brick Lane in Spitalfields used to be the hub of London’s Bangladeshi community, however as the area became trendy, the residents who made the area famous are now driven out the way. Many have lost their support network for everyday tasks such as childcare, not to mention the damage to social life moving away does. Community members criticise gentrification for changing the spirit and identity of the area, replacing art and culture with soulless business. Gentrification does not take place without resistance: frustrations with the rising prices have resulted in direct, sometimes violent action. In 2015, anti-gentrification protesters threw paint on a café window on Brick Lane. Similar protests also took place in Camden. In both cases, protesters cited dissatisfaction with “dog-eat-dog” economics resulting in a loss of community.
As a charity operating in a city so heavily affected by gentrification, we have witnessed the impact it has on already deprived communities. At JAN Trust, we believe everyone is deserving of a good quality of life and has a right to a community. The power of community cohesion ought not to be underestimated, as it has far-reaching consequences ranging from better health to public safety. Sacrificing communities is all the less ethical when it disproportionately impacts those who are already discriminated against in society.