Clapton’s Gentrification: At what cost?

Chatsworth market stall holders

If there is a blue print on how to gentrify a down heel area, it would read something like this:

  • Find low income area blighted by crime (must have period houses, boarded up cheap abandon warehouses and boarded up storefronts. ) Buy cheap and renovate.
  • Hope to hell that enough like-minded souls do the same to make your speculation increase in value.
  • Sit tight and more genteel, artsy, professionals will follow.

Such is the case in Clapton. An area a few years ago, so tainted by violent crime that the media referred to it as “Murder Mile”.

Fast forward 5 years, fewer corpses, less shootings, stabbings and muggings, you will find young professionals, and the chattering middle class are flocking to the area.  Now there are cafes like Venetia’s Coffee Shop, who encountered reluctant landlords who didn’t think much of her idea. Chatsworth Kitchen a delightful British diner whose emphasis is on home style cooking  and even the absence of a website hasn’t been a hindrance, thanks to word of mouth and local chatter on social network sites. On the corner of Chatsworth Road and Glenarm is L’epicerie, a fancy French-Moroccan deli.

There are two independent book shops, Pages of Hackney and the Book Box that hold regular literary events. A new Creperie has just landed on Chatsworth Road as well as a very daring venture called Russell of Clapton, a trendy boutique B & B that took some chutzpah and forward thinking. If you ask me it’s just the beginning of a new Chatsworth Road.

Thanks to The Chatsworth Road Residents & Traders Association (CRTRA) a bi-weekly market has been launched. They claim “a weekly market will help regenerate the high street at a time when it is under threat from global recession and expanding supermarkets.” They say it will “bring the community together” and constantly throw words like ‘diversity’ around.

However there is nothing diverse about this bunch, instead it appears to be lip service paid in their quest to gentrify the area beyond recognition. Since the word gentrification has other connotations, they use words like ‘regeneration’ to feel better and assuage their guilt.

There is nothing wrong with regeneration and you can’t blame anyone for wanting a “good life” and a “tribal” sense of security (which is enhanced by homogeneity) but, it’s always at someone else’s expense it would seem, as in the case of Broadway Market.

The same businesses, CRTRA claim will benefit from it will eventually be forced out when rent and council tax goes up, besides the only businesses that benefit from the foot traffic of a Sunday market are the ones that cater to the type of people the stalls attract. Let’s face it, it’s not catering to shoppers like my mum who goes to Ridley Market every week.

Last Sunday, I asked the Asian owner of a convenience store, if he saw an increase in customers on market day.  He shrugged: “Not one bit. Our customers come here for Caribbean goods. The market is for white people”. Across from the convenience store I spoke to the West Indian owner of another business who told me the same thing, “It really makes little difference”. He went on to say, “in the beginning they [CRTRA] bombarded me with information, they pushed letters and leaflets through my door, they talked to us, so I went along to some meetings.

“Now they have the market up and running, we don’t hear from them. They got our signatures, support and completed surveys.”  He said he wasn’t “plugged” into social networks  or the internet, when I told him CRTRA had a strong online presence.

While I don’t for one moment believe there is any deliberate segregation of  Chatsworth Road market, it is what it is. It’s still early days but you can tell where the market is heading.

Home baked cake stalls dominate the market

Handmade costume jewellery, bags, cutesy cup cakes, home made pies, vegan food and just about everything with the word ‘vintage’ attached to it. With some stall holders dressed in period clothes, a music ensemble and people drinking coffee and tea, as they huddled up in groups, it appears more like a neighbourhood street party.

Neighbourhood Pioneers

What concerns me, is the make up of those involved in transforming the neighbourhood. A close look at some of these Clapton based groups, show a lack of “Black and Minority Ethnics” (BME) representation and several of these ‘neighbourhood pioneers’ were involved in other groups that overlapped each other. They sit on committees or are members of groups and trusts set up to oppose one development after the other. Even more confusing and misleading, are the various groups with several plans in development that overlap and contradict one another. While there are lots of groups which makes it look as if there’s lots of local engagement, there are only a few of the same people who make decisions.

As one Clapton resident recently said to me:  “I’m not opposed to the development of an area action plan as long as it can clearly demonstrate it’s been developed in consultation with all of Clapton’s communities, not the same handful of people sitting on loads of committees they’ve set up who want to oppose every development that comes along, and want to channel scarce resources on their pet projects.

“I’m also not opposed to Clapton’s gentrification as long as it benefits those who are less well off and not just those with middle class elbows. But I’m far from convinced this will be the case. He added “although some of the folks making the decisions refer to diversity – I don’t believe they are committed to it or really understand what it is.”

I notice some names show up everywhere. David White, a Clapton resident has several websites he uses to promote his graphics/art work and to promote Clapton Arts Trust (CAT) and Clapton Residents Panel (CRA) two groups he sits on as Secretary.

Euan Mills describes himself as an Urban Designer and is very involved in CRTRA and a member of CAT. He does a lot of his campaigning for CRTRA via Twitter, Facebook and his pal Emily Webber’s hyper-local web site. Webber was and is still very vocal about the newTesco in Lower Clapton Road, where they ‘dared’ to open an express store.  Her web now spans Hackney with a site that promotes fellow NIMBY projects.

In all this is, the ‘big daddy’ in the sky – Hackney Labour councillor, Ian Rathbone, who seems to be involved with, all of them. He sits on the sub-committe of CRTRA and also on that of CAT.

Writing on the wall

It happened in Clapham, in the Broadway market area and now it look like people will get shafted in Clapton the more gentrified it becomes.

According to author, researcher and former University of Glasgow research fellow, Rowland Atkinson, “displacement through gentrification occurs when neighbourhoods change such that inflated rents and prices push out the low paid or the unpaid. In a more subtle way the process may involve large influxes of professionals which alter the characteristics and services of an area so that resident’s social networks change and the cost of living rises.”

Just as worrying is what will happen to the existing traders who don’t fit into the ‘trendy hip mould’ or can’t afford the rent when it sky rockets?

Rowland Atkinson has some interesting research in his article.

Displacement through gentrification: How big a problem

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About Remi

Remi Hackney Hive founder, publisher and contributor. Hackneyite and all round Girl Friday, who couldn't wait to leave Hackney and London behind her. After hitching her wagon in California, Texas, New Orleans, Louisiana for 18 years, with a brief spell in Mexico, the prodigal daughter returned happy to put an unconventional and risqué past behind her. She is owned by her two dogs Deffer(a Jack Russell & Darcy a Jack Russell/Pomeranian mix) and runs a London based pet sitting business. The big smoke is home for the moment, but she desperately yearns wide open spaces, where she hopes to call home in the near future.

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