Gentle reader, may you never feel what I then felt

The Guardian, a newspaper read almost exclusively by urban gentrifiers and written almost exclusively by Hackney newbies, is obsessed with gentrification - write what you know!

Their latest feature on the topic is about urban change across a number of international cities, including London. Brockley is the neighbourhood in the spotlight and an anonymous contributor tells their story:

My parents are Nigerian immigrants that moved to London in the late 1970s. As our family grew (they had five children), we moved around south east London quite a bit: Deptford, Catford, Sydenham. We eventually settled in Brockley, buying a very cheap but large council owned town house. At the time, Brockley was very run down, and regularly featured on Crimewatch.

In the mid-late noughties things started to change; the Afro-Caribbean shops started to disappear and were replaced by fancy delis and Gastro pubs. Brockley suddenly had a lot to offer for yuppies: lush green spaces, fantastic transport links and large properties. The transformation of the East London line into the Overground didn’t help either.

What is really depressing is that I have been outpriced out of my own home. My parents still live in Brockley but they downsized in 2007, selling our family home for more than four times the price that they bought it for in 1992. That is negative gentrification.

I used to run through Hilly Fields, a large park in Brockley. I have memories of the park being quiet and a bit unkept, an unused children’s play gym, and the odd teenager kicking a ball around. Over time, more people and events started to appear in the park. Then on Saturday mornings a small farmer’s market appeared. Then the children’s play gym got revamped and when I took my niece there last summer it was heaving with children and their parents enjoying the open space and good weather. That is certainly one positive about gentrification – seeing more people out in the open, being more active. I guess people feel the area is safer than it was when we first moved there. But it does come at a price to people like me who currently cannot afford to buy property there. (Anonymous, Brockley resident for 15 years).

This is an interesting perspective, but there are a few things to take issue with:

Firstly, it suggests that Afro-Caribbean shops have directly been displaced by the "fancy delis" and "gastro pubs". I'm not sure there are any gastropubs in Brockley, but those pubs that have been tarted up are simply modernised versions of what were there before. Of the pubs that have traditionally served Afro-Caribbean clientele, the Maypole was bulldozed years before the gentrification process set in and Albertines burned down in a cannabis factory fire and awaits an uncertain fate. The Flower of Kent continues to thrive and the Brockley Barge has an incredibly diverse clientèle. I can't think of a single new shop or cafe that has opened at the expense of an Afro-Caribbean business - they've all occupied deserted units.

Secondly, it implies that the middle classes have only recently discovered the area - but they've always been here. What we've seen recently is an influx of young professionals renting flats, rather than older families, buying houses. It's changed the pattern of demand for local amenities and certainly makes the trains and parks fuller, but it hasn't fundamentally changed the character of the area, as I remarked upon here.

Thirdly, the author writes:

What is really depressing is that I have been outpriced out of my own home. My parents still live in Brockley but they downsized in 2007, selling our family home for more than four times the price that they bought it for in 1992. That is negative gentrification.

That's a curious assessment of their family's own good fortune. Here's a first generation immigrant family able to improve their financial security by capitalising on rising house prices, probably by selling their family home to one of the aforementioned 'yuppies'. The parents could have opted to keep the larger family home, but understandably cashed in. Just like my parents did.

You can blame society or you can blame your parents, but the effect is the same and while it's personally galling not to be able to afford to live in the postcode you grew up in (neither could I when I moved to Brockley), it's not clear that this is a negative from a societal perspective. One could argue that in this case gentrification has had a significant positive wealth redistribution effect.

The case against gentrification remains unproven. Dread to be the instrument of evil to what you wholly love.

Thanks to Paul for the tip-off.

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