COMMENT: Gentrification of Brixton leaves me conflicted

Written by on April 18, 2012 in Opinions - 52 Comments

Adam Nelson

By Adam Nelson

The estate agents have been circling, and a few people sent a link my way, knowing it would ignite a theme. The article they sent me, from the Standard, was about my own neighbourhood, Brixton, and included this passage:

Charlotte Ryder, 21, said Brixton Market was one of the main reasons she chose to move to the area after graduating in politics last year.

She said that she was instantly attracted by the “multi-cultural and friendly” atmosphere, as well as the vibrant nightlife and transport links.

Miss Ryder, an associate campaign executive for Diffusion PR, said: “I’ve just got back from Thailand and Brixton Market really reminds me of it.”

Apparently the neighbourhood is now the go-to place for those who want to pretend their gap-yah never ended. The area is becoming an attractive inner London dormitory for London’s young professionals.

The problem I have with that is that I am both one of them and they are also everything I hate. The case for: I moved to Brixton two years ago with 2.1 from a Russell group university, a job in an ad agency, a vintage trenchcoat, and Ray-Bans reading glasses. The case against: I grew up down the road in a one-bed flat in Streatham with no central heating and my single mother surviving on benefits. I am also mixed-race, (white/afro carribean) though this is less important to the story here in Brixton or in London as it is in neighbourhoods in the US where this has been happening.

Granville Arcade, or "Brixton Village" pic by Laura Spargo

Take Two jerk chicken at the back of Granville Arcade (Time Out readers will know it as ‘Brixton Village’) is noticeably less vibrant. Two years ago it was packed at night, sound system blaring and the yard filled with customers, sometimes three generation of families, eating and gossiping. But the middle-class crowd that dominates the new eateries has affected both rents and the local community’s desire to keep visiting these more long-standing establishments. Elsewhere in Brixton Take Two has already closed its sister restaurants. Its neighbour, Kaosarn, is now the one buzzing with customers – it seems like a segregated dining area, separate and unequal.

For many long-standing residents what they seek when they have an unstable life is stability. The constant novelty and change, and the pace and way in which it has taken place in the neighbourhood has not brought the community along with them. This new cadence to life in Brixton panders to a new influx who seek it as a counterpoise to their stable white collar world, it is not being done in a way that feels expansive, inclusive or ambitious for all.

I grew up in south London, and to me, that always was the real London. And coming in with my middle class job and wage and predisposition towards interesting music nights, eclectic restaurants and locally sourced food, I knew that these things would be there already in the community here, not in a sanitised, pre-packaged form, neatened up with the kind of shabby-chic, easily digestible pastiche of ‘realness’ that characterises so many other ‘edgy’ places.

I used to shop in the market for mangoes as a child, I used to convince bouncers to let me into Drum ‘n’ Bass nights when I was 16 at Mass, Fridge and BugBar. Grandparents and great-grandparents of mine had lived here when they first came over  and got off the boat. I felt (still feel) very attached to the community. I didn’t want to move here for farmers’ markets and pop-up dining experiences. I wanted somewhere on the tube where there was a market and some vibrancy and most importantly there weren’t people like me.

On a personal level, it may be what I look like or what I do, but it isn’t who I am or where I have come from, or for that matter even, where I want to be. I want to go into the local pub and talk to retired builders, ex-cons, bankers and shop clerks and everyone inbetween. I don’t just want to talk to PR girls, graphic designers and corporate lawyers that dress like them.

So how do I feel? Conflicted. Excited to see a new area on the rise, especially one that I have always felt so close to, but apprehensive about how unevenly that rise is happening, with quality of life rocketing for some, and others feeling shut out of the party. This particular vision of a multicultural neighbourhood is a restaurant filled with clones but just enough colour beyond the plate glass to make it seem “real”.

Adam Nelson blogs at failtoplan.tumblr.com. Follow him on Twitter @alouneou.

About the Author

Tim Dickens is co-founder of Brixton Blog

52 Comments on "COMMENT: Gentrification of Brixton leaves me conflicted"

  1. Oh dear February 22, 2016 at 11:04 pm ·

    I’m a bit late to the party…it’s now 2016. But I came across this article after googling gentrification in Brixton because of my rather unpleasant experience eating in one of those hipster Brixton Market restaurants.

    Firstly, I few months ago I ventured down there during the day, the first time in about a decade and couldn’t believe how much it changed. I sat and spoke to a local Ethiopian ( I think) cafe and asked him what he felt about it. He felt mixed reviews and I agree with the OP I too have mixed feelings.

    On one hand, i have no problem with dainty ( slightly pretentious?) eateries popping up, cleaning up the area and bringing in trendy folks and money. What I have a problem is the attitude of some people with a skewed notion of diversity. I was sat in a Japanese restaurant in the Village waiting for a takeout I had ordered with my boyfriend, ( he is from Cameroon and I, Afro- Carib Brit) and I couldn’t believe the looks I was getting, you know that type of look down at your feet, slight dismay of we don’t want Black people around us. I’ve seen it with the changes in Dalston, Forest Hill and more recently in Lewisham ( just 2 weeks ago in fact). This white middle class thing- it’s the only way I can describe it, sorry.

    I’m more than used to eating in ‘trendy’ places being a fashion designer, sometimes it just comes part and parcel of my job.

    I can sit in Canary Wharf and have no trouble, go to Catford (currently in the throws of gentrification- sorry regeneration), however still fairly poor and diverse and have no troubles there but go to these areas where middle class white people have migrated to in a short period of time from more wealthier areas and all of a sudden you’re made to feel unwelcome. I truly do not get it. As if they bring this sterile, anally retentive, keeping up with the jones’ thing that they themselves don’t realize they have, yet profess to embrace ‘diversity’- diversity only in the form of food and drink but not in actual people it would seem…It’s just a shame.

    I have a similar story of eating in one of these trendy places in Forest Hill last year, that I’ll save because it truly did make me very upset.

    Maybe manuals should be giving to every new resident schooling them on what diversity actually is and how to respect it. Joke.Not joke.

  2. sowgat January 4, 2014 at 7:26 pm ·

    The reason Brixton and other areas are being gentrified is because they capped housing benefit. Thats right the politicians and their diversity brigade don’t want to live with immigrants and minorities!

  3. sowgat January 4, 2014 at 7:24 pm ·

    Makes me laugh how any area with a load of grubby chicken shops and asian clothing stores is celebrated culture but if the white folks dare to open a restaurant its racist. Brixton like most of london became a dump when us english people moved away. I’d never go back to london in my life. It’s a crime ridden sess pit.

    if some stupid middle class idiots want to pay high rent prices to live in an area where it isn’t even safe to walk around in broad daylight more fool them.

  4. Tim Naylor September 1, 2012 at 3:59 am ·

    Having spent a wonderful week visiting relatives in Brixton, I feel like I’ve gone through a time warp. The last time I was in these parts was fifteen years earlier. The changes people talk about are not unlike my native Brooklyn. In short, gentrification is a damned if do damned if you don’t situation. Low Rents – high crime/grime. Low grime/crime – high rents. Take your pick. While Brixton was transforming my block in Brooklyn went from six homicides in the first two years we moved in, to an incredibly expensive neighborhood in the shadow of the New Brooklyn Nets Stadium. Much like your Brixton, people discovered my hood was at one of the best transportation hubs in New York City.

    With the gentrification came my wife being able to safely walk down the avenue at night, cabs picking up street hails, one of the best slices of pizza until 4 am every night. What left was the boxing gym up the road, the local crack dealers, the living dead ambling down the block at all hours, the random shots at night, the 99 cent store, but we also lost our local pork store, many of the Arab dry good stores, a decent rib shack, several of the Dominican restaurants. On the balance of things, I’d say overall gentrification in my neck of the woods worked out for the better. But we lost a few good people and places along the way. It’s a situation where you can’t have it all.

    Perhaps the one memory that lingers with me at Brixton Hall was the African Take Out place that I remember as having a steady flow of customers several years back was now begging for customers while burger joint was thriving. One catered to the newcomers needs. Virtually all of the West Indian restaurants in my part of Brooklyn have closed. And it wasn’t because of bad product, but more so they didn’t adapt to the new customers needs for atmosphere and service being on par with food. I hope this doesn’t happen to Brixton.

  5. Sherman May 15, 2012 at 3:02 pm ·

    Like the author I’m south London born and bred. Unlike the author, even though I a wall’s worth of higher ed qualifications (including a BSc with honours and an MSc) I don’t have a “middle class job” due to moderately severe physical disability, so my perspective is most definitely “Old Brixton” as opposed to “Nu Brixton”.
    As a realist I accept that demographic change is a reality. That said, the demographic change taking place throughout London isn’t the usual cyclic flow between the suburbs and the centre that London continually experiences. Thisis faster, harsher and, sad to say, too often motivated by consumption rather than the imperative need for a home. Locales become “trendy”, and the consumers move in, all too often triggering a chain reaction of social effects in that locale, not least of which is the elevation of average private rental prices. Great for those that can afford inflated rents, not so good for those whose earnings put them on the edge of affordability, and difficult for those for whom the rents are unaffordable except with welfare support (often those of us who are “Old Brixton”, sad to say.
    It’s not nice watching the community you grew up in dissolve away in the course of a generation, which is why I favour regeneration over gentrification every time. Unfortunately, politicians don’t.

  6. elahrairah May 3, 2012 at 8:21 pm ·

    please leave you rent-raising over-caffeinated middle class yuppies. you ignored us for years, now you’re pushing us out. please, just go away.

  7. Tim Dickens April 26, 2012 at 8:48 am ·

    Hi folks. Really enjoying the debate on this, and glad Adam’s commentary piece has stimulated the discussion. We’re really keen to organise an offline debate on the same subject very soon, as well as a series of articles on this subject. So watch this space.

    Just to let you know that I have had to take down a couple of comments on the thread. This is purely for legal reasons and because of the way that comments are set up on the site (i.e.. pre moderated). If you have any questions about this feel free to email me through the Contact Us page. We are currently changing the way comments are added to the site for the better.

    Also if you have any suggestions, or would like to write something for the comments section then please drop us a line too.

    T

  8. al geffers April 25, 2012 at 11:00 am ·

    It really annoys me that people think its bad that ‘white English’ middle class people are moving into the area after all Brixton was origianlly all-white English many years ago! It may be that a big proportion of people are now afro-carribean but that doesn’t mean it has to stay that way – its called change. No doubt the white English middle class in the 50-60s didnt like the change the that was forced on them by all the newly arrived immigrants back then. What goes round comes round! Its just reverting to the way it used to be in early 20th century times just like Notting Hill has also changed back to how it was.

    • Kate April 25, 2012 at 3:58 pm ·

      That comment is so insidious and sneakily racist on so many levels.

      • Tim April 4, 2013 at 5:29 pm ·

        Ah that’s it, bring out the racist card to negate an opinion and stifle debate. The point is valid. If West Indian locals are complaining about the influx of newcomers into the area and changing the demographics and price in the area, then surely you can see the irony of this? “We don’t want your type round here!”

        1950 or 2013?

    • adam nelson April 25, 2012 at 10:57 pm ·

      I think its bad if any area is changed so fast that some people think it is at their expense-historically it has been shown to cause tension and work against any kind of cause for integration. I also think you may be a bigot, whether you realise it or not…

      • John July 20, 2012 at 1:34 pm ·

        ””I think its bad if any area is changed so fast that some people think it is at their expense-historically ”

        You do realise that this is the sort of comment that Enoch Powell supporting Tories like to come out with…

  9. james April 23, 2012 at 9:15 pm ·

    No one owns Brixton. And it’s big enough for all of us.

    I expect the farmers and villagers moaned when the Victorian developers moved in.

    I expect the middle classes moaned when the Windrush generation arrived.

    As for property values, did anyone expect to see prices stay low when East Dulwich, Balham, Tooting, Forest Hill, Brockley and everywhere else in South London soared?

  10. Ben Tunstall April 23, 2012 at 6:55 pm ·

    For anyone wanting to do some reading, I think these two documents are useful. The PPS/Ford one is particularly the kind of thinking that I think should be informing council-developed projects.

    Project for Public Space – Public Markets as a Vehicle for Social Integration and Upward Mobility
    http://www.pps.org/pdf/Ford_Report.pdf

    Sharon Zukin – Destination Culture and the Crisis of Authenticity
    http://www.friendsofbrixtonmarket.org/downloads/zukin-destination-culture.pdf

  11. BigAndyW April 23, 2012 at 5:12 pm ·

    Anyone making a reference to white middle class in a negative way can f**k off right now! I’m middle class moved to Brixton over a decade ago when it wasn’t really cool. I fell in love with place as it is and shall remain a real slice of London life, where you can see both good and bad.

    What’s happened to market is nothing short of brilliant. There were empty units for years, anyone could have got in on it, I used to have a fantasy ‘ could a cool restaurant/shop work in here? ‘, i laugh at my lack of imagination as the answer is no, actually about 20 cool shops/cafes/restaurants can fit. These entrepreneurs spotted a good thing and went for it acting quickly.

    So BRixton has changed. That’s going to be painful for some people, but the best parts of London do change, so what if the clientèle is a bit this or that, get out there and enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think…

    • adam nelson April 23, 2012 at 7:38 pm ·

      I think most people with even a cursory knowledge of South London wouldn’t disagree with your comments. Brixton has always been, in my experience of coming here when I was growing up ( not an awfully long time ago) very mixed.
      I would like to distance myself from any potential accusations of Luddism by agreeing that change is for the positive.
      Though if you have been here for ten years, BigAndy, and love it for its variation then I am sure you would have the understanding to see (though by no means do you have to agree with) where I come from with my own ambivalence, that when the speed of change is catalysed to the point where it could begin to create major displacement then in may not be so universally positive…

  12. Ash April 23, 2012 at 1:51 pm ·

    As long as the village doesn’t price out, and force out long running businesses, it seems to be a good thing to me. I do worry that as it grows in popularity, the businesses that have been there since before it’s regeneration may be priced out and forced to close. This is a very bad thing.

    Sometimes trendifying an area is a good thing. Sometimes it’s really very bad. I think it needs to be handled sensitively, so that long standing traders can co-exist with the new traders. If that happens I think we’ll be laughing.

  13. Robert Vaughan April 23, 2012 at 1:37 pm ·

    I think too many people are concentrating on minor details, even aesthetic details. People have to find out important things like: how many people are leaving? Is it harder to survive in Brixton? Where do people end up going – are they happy? – are they moving to prototype banlieues? – are the uprooted children stressed? What is the role of the council in this – is it as someone once wrote “state negotiated gentrification”?

    • SW9refugee April 23, 2012 at 1:56 pm ·

      The first comment

      “Is it harder to survive in Brixton? ”

      Christ on a fucking bike. Just plain dumb ignorance. But then I saw the other one waxing the virtues of ‘brixton village’ , and that foolishness vanished into insignificance…

  14. Binki April 23, 2012 at 11:37 am ·

    As a Brixton Village business owner, resident for 25 yrs in and around Brixton – I am uncomfortable with this collective squirming!

    Brixton has been is a process of so called gentrification for years. We live in a hugely diverse area; extreme poverty and wealth and all that lies in between, sit cheek by jowl – uncomfortably – it’s the nature of living in a city, this city. If you took Brixton Village out of that scenario that situation would be the same. The process of gentrification is not owned soley by the white middle classes, there are black middle classes too – who have the same aspirations. The discomfort you feel as ‘sensitive’ middle class consumers of Brixton Village is patronising and judgemental.

    I hope sharing your ‘conflicted feeling’s is the starting point for becoming more involved in bringing about the changes you want to see. Instead of a conversation about what Brixton Village takes away, how about we consider what it brings to our community?

    Brixton Village is used by a diverse range of people- still. What you see on a Friday night represents a Friday night, not a Tuesday morning or a Wednesday afternoon. Because you want to sit and enjoy a bit of café society on a Friday night doesn’t mean that’s how you neighbours want to spend their money; they may prefer to come and buy fish on a Saturday morning, or veg on a thursday afternoon, this should not make you feel uncomfortable it is a question of choice. Undoubtedly the Village needs to remain a destination that can be used by a whole range of people wanting a variety of things from the market space: good fresh food, eating, drinking, entertainment, gifts, clothes, curiousities, whatever there is room for it all.

    What Brixton Village brings is local economy and you need local economy to bring work opportunities to local people. We need people to spend money in Brixton rather than taking it out of Brixton, whether you find them personally offensive or not is really not the point. The majority of the businesses in the village are run by local people, employing other local people, in businesses that provide a welcome alternative that some local residents clearly want – it’s not for everyone but nowhere is for everyone, it’s a question of choice and taste. Why should that money leave our community for the East or West End? Brixton deserves and needs to have a thriving economic centre that brings people into Brixton, Brixton Village is very much part of this and I am puzzled as to why that should make anyone feel uncomfortable. If you want a different mix of shops, if you want to change the ratio of shops to restaurants, if you want to change the balance of clientele; be present, support the village and the traders, get involved with that conversation.

    What is galling is not the micro but the macro. The fact that hard earned rents are going directly into privately owned off-shore hands, and not being fed back into the community, is the situation that needs addressing. It is an opportunity for innovative community development and collectively we should be reviewing and focussing on options for moving that forward.

    • Ben Tunstall April 23, 2012 at 12:45 pm ·

      Binky – I see it this way too: the macro is the issue not the micro. Seeing that and understanding how we tackle that is hard. I personally think squirming is a function of realising that while you think you are who you are, you come to realise that you are also a product of economic forces that seem beyond your control and that run counter to who you think you are, and not being clear how to deal with that. I think squirming is a good start, just not comfortable – but self-critical action is probably better. I would love to know your thoughts on what you say about innovative community development and collectively. Does anyone fancy setting up some kind of open meeting about this in the real world?

    • Ben Tunstall April 23, 2012 at 12:52 pm ·

      sorry – Binki.

    • Robert Vaughan April 23, 2012 at 1:24 pm ·

      Economic growth will early always increase the gap between rich and poor, especially when we’re talking about urban accumulation.

    • Adam Nelson April 23, 2012 at 2:00 pm ·

      Personally my squirming is from looking at myself in this scenario. Its not the businesses or the regeneration that I have any conflicted feelings about, it is the potential mono-cuture that it creates.
      Perhaps it is naive of me to think that we can simply open ‘nice new things that everyone will like’ when there are such a range of incomes and backgrounds and views and opinions that that very phrase has a point of contention in almost every word!

      I don’t think I have ever said a bad work against the traders, or if I have said anything that could be taken that way, I apologise.

      And Binki, your sentiments about local are so true and I vehemently agree. If I can get it on Electric avenue that I do, or any of the other local businesses. The mile-long 7pm queue of commuters in Sainsbury’s local seems like a wasted opportunity….

  15. Cyndi United80 April 23, 2012 at 9:57 am ·

    I am rather disappointed reading this. I think it is important to say that I am black and that I co-own one of the businesses in the market. Obviously as I have an extreme vested interest, please forgive my unreserved passion for what I will now say.

    I am not a new settler to Brixton, I quite literally spent my childhood every weekend in the said market as my mother used to own a Ghanaian food shop and a clothes business.

    I suppose thatI have always had a buzz for self-starting: my husband and I have run several market stalls over the years in Brixton, Camden, Portobello and before being back in Brixton- Brick Lane. Additionally, I have worked in many venues in the area and know a sizeable community of all backgrounds who all have a stake in the melting pot that is Brixton.
    I have repeatedly been asked about my viewpoints on the ‘gentrification’ of Brixton and sometimes more crudely, my thoughts on the absence of black people in the newer markets.

    Well, if we want to discuss the cost of housing in Brixton, it’s been pretty high for the last decade if not longer. The same people living in these expensive properties are still here, the only difference is that they now have a desire to patronise particular businesses that are popping up.

    And there lies the problem for me. I am not sure how I can convince people to patronise these new businesses if they do not want to. I don’t believe that money is the problem as a sizeable black community who I regularly drink with at the Satay Bar as an example from all spectrums of class happily spend £7 on a champagne cocktail. The reason is quite simply that that is their choice. I accept that white people are the majority customers at the restaurants in the market but you would have to look at the different cultural dynamics of Black Britain and their social interests versus that of their white counterparts. It is the same in every area where a particular dining experience is to be had in the West. The other thing that I am asked about is the lack of ‘Black Business’ . (I scanned on this thread a suggestion about ‘Black Clothing Shops’ – like really? I struggle to think what that would be without being sarcastic and stereotypical so I will save comment) I keep countering this question by asking WHAT IS WHITE BUSINESS? Ultimately, business is about monetization so if I own a button factory, should it be called a black business because I am black? Even more insulting, is the idea that the many black owners of the shops in the new market area are supposed to sell ‘black things’ in the UK to I’m guessing blacks only? I think that some of you need to strike the conversation with some us and try to integrate rather than observe with a misplaced pained guilt. A lot of people actually don’t want to come to the market, because it’s simply not their bag.

    Finally, my last point is about the Spacemakers initiative. There has been MUCH SPECULATION about what a trader needed to do to get a unit .To set the record straight, you had to simply have a desire to set a unit up. Not very illuminati, I realise. We actually went to the market office and were shown three choices of units and duly signed with no business plan just a bit of get up and go. Setting up any kind of business is not for everyone, so it is in my opinion an invalid point to try to develop business people. Not everyone desires lugging around suitcases of products to pitches in their spare time, never quite knowing if the day will provide. Many of the shops that have been set up, have been done on very little budget so are not deliberate in seeming ‘edgy’, it seems that our faux pax was to be creative- shame on us all.

    • Ben Tunstall April 23, 2012 at 12:39 pm ·

      I am also passionate about the market – I do think there were missed opportunities within the spacemaker project, which I lay at the door of the council more than anyone, but I don’t want to overstate the role of Brixton Village within Brixton Market or Brixton as whole, though it is undoubtedly a bit totemic in nature. I also think that now we have what we have, there’s nothing wrong with people counterbalancing the absolutely enormous amount of positive publicity it has received, by trying to work out how to make sure the opportunities it presents work for everyone, and more importantly, to learn from it and try to make sure that future council initiatives make the most of opportunities for everyone. I have squirmed over the changes down there (partly to be honest because I invested too much time and emotion in it all in losing battles over ice rinks etc), but I have also worked in my spare time down there with lawyers for ‘new’ and ‘old’ traders, and (tried to) instigate Business Rates investigations for all the traders, and so on. My comments about the spacemaker application process were more directed at the planning, launch and formal selection process and so on than it sounds like you went through, and are based on conversations with the London Youth Support Trust and others. I apologise if my use of the phrase ‘black clothes shops’ causes you offence. I understand your point, and am not attempting to falsely assert any sort of segregation, and am happy to be shown the errors in my thinking, but still think that it could be meaningful for some shops and some people.
      My comments are not aimed at the businesses, nor their customers, nor even the spacemakers, or even in some ways the landlords – but at the council, and at us as citizens who might try to do something to influence them. I do also think people’s comments may deserve a little bit more than a scan!

    • Adam Nelson April 23, 2012 at 1:50 pm ·

      I think this is a great reply, especially to hear from a business owner. I think the point about it not being a financial issue is a particularly pertinent one. Also, I think apologies if this was seen as a concerted critique of the businesses that have opened in Brixton Village- it was meant far from it- very much my own personal musings on a new amenity in the area that is thriving, and which is bringing a rapid reappraisal of the area. And the praise and attention for all the business there can be nothing but a good thing. As I was hoping to capture here- this is a very personal set of musings on my part that I wanted to air- initially on my personal blog, but that was re-blogged by the brixton blog.
      I find it interesting in itself that the racial dimension of the businesses and of their clientele has become such a strong dimension, as for me, it was always something that came secondary to the class dimension- I feel far more conflicted by my working class upbringing and my very middle class life now than by racial identity.

  16. Andrew H April 22, 2012 at 4:48 pm ·

    I moved to Brixton a year ago and although a South Londoner by birth as a waspy professional I undoubtably reflect the gentrification of this area.

    Firstly, whether what has happened to Brixton Market is a good thing or no to say that is responsible for the gentrification puts the argument on its head. What has caused the gentrification is (relatively) cheap housing and good transport links to jobs in London. What follows the gentry is people selling things to them that they wont to buy, like a good coffee, and that this can be found in Brixton Market should surprise no one. If its wasn’t there it would be somewhere else.

    Secondly, the suburbs of London have been in constant flux. Folk harken back to an idyllic past, but whose past is that?

    • Ben Tunstall April 22, 2012 at 10:18 pm ·

      Andrew, I agree with you, cities change, situations are messy and complex, trends occur, things happen. But, if I’m understanding you right, you’re too simplistic in your assumptions about how things work.

      – I don’t think you can claim things are quite so organic and in a sense ‘natural’ as you say – we live in a society where massive political forces and other forms of organised money and power are able to intervene (in the market, the ‘flux’ of life etc) in a manner which can radically alter the context within which organic developments then occur. These strategic level interventions may be in the interest of many and diverse people on a range of incomes, or they may skew towards a particular group, which will often be the wealthy. Obviously which way this goes is the realm of politics.

      – You’re right gentrification is undoubtedly more fundamentally related to housing than shopping. However, first, it is worth bearing in mind that the trend towards wealthier people buying housing in London (and buying to let) in the way they do is not just a straightforward development in our society, it is the product of economic policy, and second, the way the area is ‘rebranded’ and made attractive to wealthier people and so on through council / landlord intervention in Brixton market then causes the rise in popularity and an increase in house prices and rents. Higher private rents force people on low incomes out, especially when Welfare Reform is currently gearing up to shift whole populations from one part of London to another (Kensington and Chelsea is moving people to Dagenham) or to other parts of the country (Croydon council moving people to Hull). I think Brixton does have a good amount of social housing still, and I for one hope this remains (and increases), and you can argue that increased house values and commercial rents mean higher tax income for the council, which can be spent on council services for all – but I think it’s dangerous to acquiesce in this view. For a start, many have their suspicions about the degree to which Brixton’s social housing will continue to exist.

      – Regarding shopping though, whether there is much crossover trade (or ‘trickledown’ if you will) between wealthier residents and other parts of the community is unclear to me. I’ve written a couple of comments below about what I think the revamped Brixton Village might have contained as well as coffee shops etc.

      – You may think ‘well, things change’ – but some change is good and some bad, and you can decide to make a choice about that. If all people on low incomes have to move out to a Banlieue, that might be ‘the flux of the suburbs’, but their lives will be made worse – their days will involve longer commutes, they may well be forgotten in ghettos, and anyway they have a RIGHT (dammit) to live in the centre.

      – To be frank, I don’t think this is about ‘idyllic pasts’, it’s about futures that are ‘more or less alright’ for lots of people instead of ‘really cool’ for a few and ‘crap’ for many others. It’s not about what’s been lost – it’s about what could’ve been instead.

      – Although a south londoner by birth myself and 15+ years in Brixton, I’m no doubt part of gentrification too. Doesn’t mean we can’t try to make things right.

  17. Liz April 20, 2012 at 6:38 pm ·

    Adam, I agree with you. Your last line struck home. We went down to the market because it had won such praise in the press, and I felt distinctly uncomfortable being sat there in the restaurant. Why? There was a clear race divide between the customers, and the passers-by outside. I am East Asian but I was the only person in the restaurant who wasn’t white. This was the case in nearly all the other restaurants in the arcade. We walked past the Ritzy and the same divide existed – between those sat inside, and those outside. I grew up in a country where racial segregation was the norm and it was sad to see it so plainly in London. When unemployment is higher for ethnic minorities than it is for white Britons, and when half of Britain’s black men don’t have jobs and welfare and housing reforms are so unrelenting – the gentrification of Brixton is a serious issue. People who have lived there for decades do not need to be sidelined. They need to be given jobs by the businesses that open up in the arcade, or any other new venture in Brixton. The new restaurants in the arcade also need to reach out to the locals – but as in Ladbroke Grove, they are unaffordable for many of the locals who have worked hard to create the sense of community that has since drawn middle class professionals to the area. And in both communities they are being priced out. I think Miss South has a positive response which Londoners ought to consider for all areas in London that are gentrifying rapidly – shopping local and supporting small businesses, particularly those that have been there for quite some time.

    • adam nelson April 22, 2012 at 11:47 am ·

      Well said. The more everyone can support, the better, but it has to be everyone, not just certain sections of the community. Outreach is a patronising way of putting it, but I don’t know a better way of saying it, but somehow these new developments need to make themselves feel open to everyone

  18. Ed April 20, 2012 at 11:41 am ·

    Adam, I can’t help but feel unsettled by your article.

    If I’m wrong then I apologise but all I’m getting from your piece is that you just don’t like the people that parts of the market now attract to Brixton.

    I’m not exactly a lover of all either but I do try to avoid hate wherever possible.

    I wish people could live their lives and enjoy each experience in its own right. Instead, for some there seems to be a need, for example, to be seen or in the know. But if that’s the case that’s their prerogative and they should be free to pursue it without my ignorance getting in their way.

    I understand why you’d be protective of something which holds treasured memories.

    But I’d also caution against imposing what may well be a rose-tinted view on the lives of those with less time invested.

    Whether you like it or not diversity is unconditional.

    • adam nelson April 20, 2012 at 5:51 pm ·

      I think my conclusion is that it leaves me conflicted. Displacement is not regeneration in its truest sense, when the diversity an variation which, at least for me was part of the initial attraction is pushed out by an estate agents bubble, and ill-thought out use of regeneration funds. please look at Ben’s comments for a more sang froid assessment. its not hate, its a wish that it could be for all. Apologies if the rhetoric gets in the way of the message, but please re-read my conclusion before you accuse me of hate- its a very strong word and not one that I want to be associated with…

      • Ed April 20, 2012 at 6:43 pm ·

        I admit, I was being facetious throwing ‘hate’ back at you – I don’t for one minute believe that you’re a hateful person – but it came from you:

        “The problem I have with that is that I am both one of them and they are also everything I hate.”

        Ultimately, I’m on your side. But a workable solution must be pragmatic – you talk about market forces so you know what I’m saying – and as such emotion and sentiment will only hinder progress. Be passionate, but don’t let it cloud judgement.

        I apologise for the ‘hate’ bit – I shall try to leave my innate turdness on the Guardian site from now on.

        • adam nelson April 24, 2012 at 7:35 pm ·

          You’re right to be facetious, but ultimately this is an opinion piece, so I am primarily just pleased that there have been this much of a response.
          Thanks for taking the time to read the piece!

  19. Ben Tunstall April 19, 2012 at 10:40 pm ·

    And in fact, just for completeness, I emailed the below to Steve in reply:

    I think the Brixton Village project would have been of more benefit to the whole community if it had:

    – worked to a longer timescales (for application, support etc) and had been more able to attract and support applications from less business-savvy constituents – for example, it had been run in partnership with LYST, and had offered genuine and long-term business support to the new businesses that came in. It could have been an incubator for NEET run businesses.

    – been undertaken by an agency that had a proper understanding of community development and small businesses – that could have undertaken a proper analysis of the existing businesses and how to support them, how to develop a cluster of (for example) black clothes shops. Spacemakers simply knew how to use twitter etc to target a very particular demographic, but not too much else.

    – had – following on from the above – then pursued a more thorough and supported marketing strategy to reach out to Brixton’s diversity of communities

    – had had better, less oppositional (or ‘we know better than you’) officer support

    – had started out from a different position to what I think it did – that is, from a position of community development rather than just of ‘regeneration’ – especially one which was understood by Lambeth officers as being synomymous with ‘gentrification’.

  20. Ben Tunstall April 19, 2012 at 9:39 pm ·

    Ok – apologies for the length of the following, but I hereby do Steve Reed’s bidding – below is the comment I tried to make on his blog about Cameron’s comments on the fox and Cherries sculpture, which he didn’t allow onto his site, (whilst also deleting the comments that have pissed off qosno1 on the Steve Reed / Steve Bradley thread on U75). Steve did have the decency to email and say I should put it here because it’s too long (which to be fair it is). The quotes are from Steve’s response to Brixton Bugle’s comment. I used to be Chair of Friends of Brixton Market – it’s past history now in many ways, but I think there are important lessons in it – particularly for the council.

    That Brixton Village is owned by the Deputy Chair of the Centre for Policy Studies – ie. Thatcher’s favourite think tank – may be just a funny irony – “Cameron slams Labour council for paying for giant Fox and Cherries to support Thatcherite policy guru’s own business” – but I wish you would recognise that in many ways the council’s interventions in Brixton Village and their lack of imagination in what they could have done has created a situation that – while fabulously vibrant for some – solidifies a loss of amenity for others, and may add to – perhaps only in a small way, but perhaps bigger – the social homogenisation of Brixton – particularly in an era of rising rents and Welfare Reform. The question of gentrification ends up being put solely on the conscience of the more sensitive of the new restaurant-punters etc – when it should be on the strategic outlook of a Labour Council – to ensure that where they intervene in this manner, they do so in a way that ensures the regeneration is beneficial to people on low incomes and from existing minority community cultures more – I believe – than this has done. Instead I – and others – will remember sitting in a meeting with council officers where a council officer unguardedly used the word “gentrification” as a self-evident, unproblematic good. There is a level of complacent trickle-down-ish-ness in some of your arguments here, and a smug acquiescence in finding a load of hipster PR land in your lap that just isn’t good enough.

    “the regeneration of the markets ultimately benefits everyone in Brixton.”

    That remains to be seen…

    “New businesses create jobs for local people…Many of the new restaurants buy their ingredients from the longer-established market stall holders, or have other work done for them by existing local companies. All the new visitors shop at stalls and businesses right across the market. All of this is good. ”

    
The jobs that were created within the Brixton Village spacemaker project were probably 90% for people who could write business plans, had a degree of capital behind them and fitted a pretty narrow look and feel for the curated ‘community feel’ the spacemakers, council officers and landlords wanted. It was me (me! who?) that ended up pushing to get just one youth orientated enterprise into the market – the London Youth Support Trust, who had a VERY poor impression of the selection process and the barriers to entry involved. Of course it was Steph Butcher who posed for the photo op when they did finally take a space for a while. While there may be some trickle-down or crossover to other parts of the community that may be beneficial (I know the off license on Coldharbour Lane is doing better out of it because of the BYOB at the restaurants and maybe some of the fishmongers are doing ok), I’m not sure it’s that much, but I’d be keen to know what gives you the impression that it is.

    “More jobs means less crime.”


    I’m not sure that these jobs necessarily impact on crime. In fact questions of gentrification may bring about issues of social fragmentation that exacerbate crime.

    “The fact that people want to come and live and work here brings money to the area.”


    Indeed and pushes up rents and in an era of ‘welfare reform’ and insufficient social housing, we can see where this may well lead. A welfare strategy officer from Lambeth said the other week that we may come to ‘feel and think differently about Lambeth’ in the next year or so – implying that social cleansing and homogenisation is going to happen. I hope Lambeth is planning on defending the social housing it continues to have – I also hope it continues to be sure to provide central public spaces and amenities for people on low incomes.

    “The alternative – rows of empty market units and dwindling numbers of customers and jobs – is a downward spiral that helps no-one.”


    The empty shops were the product of rent increases by the landlords. They were deliberate attempts to empty the place of the old traders – initially to just hoik rents, then to make way for redevelopment, then just to get what they could from the place. Finding a new creative way to fill them with higher yield businesses is just a completion of that cycle that they instigated. You may say ‘that’s the way of the world’ – politics is the art of the possible etc. I think the council HAD an opportunity to make Brixton Village into something genuinely cross-community, that could have genuinely supported businesses set up by people on low incomes, but it squandered that for a big PR puff – that did the work of the landlords by other means.

    Apologies for the cracked record aspects of the above, and I know that Friends of Brixton Market could almost be accused of playing their part in this too – we afterall, alongside Paul Bakerlite and Rachel Heyward and others got the place listed – but these things needs to be said and said again. It’s fine – the businesses down there are doing what they do very well – but from a strategic point of view, it could have been so much better than it is.

    And don’t get me started on the loss of the car park… Still, all strength to the Street Traders and the successes they’ve had of late!!

  21. MxT April 18, 2012 at 4:14 pm ·

    I agree with Robert’s post. And I think it’s easy to focus on the market thing because it’s visible, but the truth is that those unit holders are hard working and many of them are locals (whatever constitutes being a local). As far as I can remember, and I’m a South Londoner who has lived in Brixton for almost a decade, that part of the market was already mostly vacant, and, if I’m correct, the Granville Arcade was saved, prior to that, from development which would have probably bulldozed it to build a giant branch of Next or something. Let’s look at the real and devestating issues of community displacement due to rising rents and lack of social housing. And let’s not make judgements on people based on whether they might look a bit trendy. Or whether they’re white, or whether they sound a little bit middle class, or whether they like stone baked pizza, because when it comes to ensuring that we live in a fair and nurturing community it’s actions and deeds that matter, not the length of your trousers.

    • Adam Nelson April 18, 2012 at 4:21 pm ·

      Its the buzz around these new stores though, or rather the way media often turns it into a city-wide event- thanks publishing revolution that is the freesheet- that creates a sudden shift in desirability that causes leaps and bubbles in the housing market- I agree about with this hard facts that Robert raises and you reiterate, but to separate the two is to make the same error that classical economists do- people and markets are one and the same thing!

    • Robert Vaughan April 19, 2012 at 10:03 am ·

      I do actually think race should be considered an issue. The idea of people being displaced in racial patterns is a horrific one, even if it is done by liberal whites who listen to Roots Manuva.

      • Mrs Miniver April 23, 2012 at 2:05 pm ·

        Sometimes ‘displacement’ is voluntary, I know of both black and white people who took advantage of both council right-to-buy and the open market property ladder then sold up and made fantastic profit that they then took elsewhere. I also know of both black and white council/housing assoc. tenants who were given incentives to move perhaps switching from a small property in Brixton to a larger family unit in Croyden and that sort of thing.

        I would be careful about trying to stick easy labels on any ‘ermerging patterns’ of demographic change, situations are rarely simple and appearances can deceive.

  22. DaisyDumps April 18, 2012 at 4:06 pm ·

    This is a really interesting article thank you. I follow the Brixtonite on Twitter and felt really conflicted when she too made some really hard hitting and intelligent points about this same topic – about the patronising way that the white middle classes can ’embrace’ Brixton’s diversity now because it is has places to get a decent latte. But I also felt somewhat under fire. I too am a white, middle class graduate moving here from Walthamstow three years ago. I unashamedly love Brixton – something I’ve never felt in all the other places I’ve lived right across London. I moved here before ‘Brixton Village’ but yes I’m excited about it and enjoy it. I worry about older shops being priced out but when I used to walk through Granville arcade it was pretty empty and it was going to be demolished (although I’m sure I don’t know all the history behind it as some long standing resident do). And it’s not as though it is rows of starbucks and chain shops – it is little independent traders and their food is often relatively cheap and bring your own. I found the quote from Brixton Blog editor in the Standard that locals now prefer to go to the market in Peckham as they are alienated by the white and trendy invasion, completely ridiculous and over the top – and as mentioned in other posts, surely the history of Brixton is that is has been an area where different cultures and types find a place within it? The final thing is that yes I do ‘love the diversity’ of the place – but I hope it’s not patronising. I grew up in Merseyside – with black siblings in an area with no non-white faces – so I embrace and love Brixton, and London, for that. I feel it’s a shame that I’m now starting to feel guilty for living in and loving this area.

  23. Adam Nelson April 18, 2012 at 4:00 pm ·

    Sarah, I remember going to Koa Sarn before Jay Rayner. You used to be able to walk in. I always find it sad that so many didn’t give it a try and fill it with locals before the Observer Cru rocked up. My initial thoughts of about that lack of adoption by the existing community was here http://failtoplan.tumblr.com/post/8216911537/urban-regeneration-urban-disconnection written last summer before the distrubances.

    Robert- thanks for the point to the journal- I will def look it up. I have wanted for ages to do a Sociology MA, but I haven’t made the time for myself yet ( and think that I may slip all too easily into journalese. I love the soundbite a little to much to be a rigorous academic, not that that has stopped all!) I feel like we are seeing the opposite of what the yanks called ‘white flight’ from the city centre. There is a feeling amongst some that its like ‘thanks for holding the fort, you can all f-off now’ from the middle class influx. People are moving in so fast they are displacing the things they moved for.

    Miss South- I feel like your brixton story would be a fascinating one to be told. I hope I am commenting on your comment piece next! I would be fascinated to know what those you do community work with think- and how we can make sure not just that they are not priced out, but that they participate and shape this regeneration

    Simon- well said about this coming during a recession- and it is great to see that growth. And that Costa/Starbucks war sends a shiver down my spine!

    DV- more militant that me! Love it! I agree though we can;t be sentimental- if you give a damn about something, use it… in that context, its funny how there is nowhere to buy a pint of milk except Sainsbury’s local…

    Nadia- maybe we need to encourage everyone getting off the train to go and get their groceries on Electric Avenue- So much of the pre-packed salad, pasta and ready-meals can be bought in those independent stores- and they are the same people who say they shop local because they get a flat white at Federation every weekend. Its like the crab that walked forwards on Sundays as my gran would always say. On that note, I took my gran to the market last year ( she moved to America from the UK in the late 80s when everything here went really cr*p. She loved it, but it has moved on from then, even now.

  24. Nadia Gilani April 18, 2012 at 1:04 pm ·

    I like how Adam Nelson writes and enjoyed and read with interest what he has said here. Many people have shared similar sentiments with me. It’s a great place Brixton, and yes it brings up inner conflict. My favourite place has always been and still is the market. I love markets and wish people avoided the awful nearby supermarkets, used Brixton Market and cooked more because you can get everything you could ever want and more in there along with service that’s always cheering.

    I’m interested in what Adam’s grandparents and the older generation ‘who came over and got off the boat’ think. Can we find out? : )

  25. DV April 18, 2012 at 12:08 pm ·

    this is a really great article Adam, i’m glad i’ve stumbled upon it.

    I feel very much the same as you.i do wonder however which is worse; the army of clones and international brands strangling the soul out of the town, or our sentimentental desire for brixton to hold it’s character?

    I guess to answer this question you first have to define ‘worse’ . Worse for the people that already live there? Worse for the economy? Worse for the English lower classes as a whole? All worthy questions in their own right, and all worth a thought.

    I think that Brixton had it coming. Such a vibrant and varied place populated by low cost property was always going to get burnt by The Capitalist Torch.
    On the plus side, fads die out. Once the Cold-Ankles have fucked off back north of the river at least their money will have left enough residue for the town, hopefully at least, to take further positive forward steps.

  26. Simon April 18, 2012 at 9:48 am ·

    Nothing so well considered as the earlier comments but here goes –

    I have more of a problem with big chain brands. Brixton to me has represented independence. I moved here in about 1993 (couldn’t afford to buy in Clapham North) and have watched all sorts of places come and go. I still rue the day that Brixton Cycles moved from Coldharbour (even if it is marginally closer to me now). Mcdonalds, KFC, Costa etc blight the area far more than the funky newcomers (many of which won’t survive and will hopefully be replaced by someone else’s aspirations).

    Change is part of Brixton – look at a lot of the property. Walk down Electric Avenue and look up, or wander a few streets in any direction. Very grand at one time and the whole area has had a cycle of prosperity, penury and everything in between. I don’t really want the area to be full of braying PR gap-year types either, but I do like somewhere nice to eat, decent fish, meat and veggie shops and a good booze shop (rather than one laden with White Ice) is a bonus. It keeps my money local. A full Arcade is good for Lambeth as a whole in terms of business rates etc.

    So this has been a bit random, but if Brixton is on the verge of a change, it’s just one more in a long history (check out Urban75’s old photos of the area!). The positive thing is that this change is occurring during a recession rather than being the consequence of one.

  27. miss south April 18, 2012 at 9:09 am ·

    I feel conflicted too. On the one hand I love that the Brixton Village thing means my friends no longer pull faces about Brixton, crack jokes about the drug dealers and will come down here now from Hackney or Finsbury Park, but I feel sad everytime one of the small businesses that stood by Brixton in the tough times, gets elbowed out by somewhere newer and shinier.

    I’m white, I’m middle class and went to a Russell Group myself and worked in fashion. I look like the living embodiment of gentrification in Brixton, but I’m here because I was rehoused in council accomodation after becoming homeless. Brixton absorbed my instability and uncertainty and didn’t judge me like Clapham or Balham might. It allowed me to pick up the pieces again and I feel I should repay it.

    I do community work with other people in a similar to situation to make sure they won’t be affected by the real gentrifier of Housing Benefit caps and welfare reform to try and give back. I also shop local 90% of the time and not just in the trendy bits. Genuinely, is there anything else we can be doing to try and help Brixton ride this out?

    • Cyndi United80 April 24, 2012 at 9:14 am ·

      Love this comment. This is how I view Brixton, a very unique place that has room for all. Your actions not your dissertations are very welcome inspiration,.x

  28. Robert Vaughan April 18, 2012 at 8:56 am ·

    Another Streathamite here (but I’m even priced out of there now!) Too often we don’t see beyond the aesthetic changes surrounding gentrification. The reality I think lies in material change like inflating rent prices and how many original residents (surely the people with the social and capital ‘right’ to lay claim to a place) have been economically forced out of their hometown. Now, it’s bloody hard to get info on this. It can be pieced together from census data (as ‘New-build gentrification and London’s riverside
    renaissance’ by Lees & Davidson shows), but the various powers-that-be have seemingly little interest in challenging the ‘urban renaissance’ orthodoxy and so little funding exists for such endeavours. To look at Brixton specifically, I know the journal article ‘Social Capital, Gentrification and Neighbourhood Change in London: A Comparison of Three South London Neighbourhoods’ by Butler makes a reasonable statistical start (albeit with what is now old information).

  29. Sarah Vaci April 18, 2012 at 8:41 am ·

    I feel the same way and I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. I used to live in Streatham and moved to Brixton a few years ago because it was exciting and different, and yet homely and welcoming. It seems like perhaps there are now two Brixtons – one in the day for original locals, and one in the evening when all those grads swarm on the market eateries. I was initially excited to see the developments but on the rare nights I get to go out (due to having a little one) I can’t even get to eat in the market it’s so busy!! Am I right in thinking some places you have to book ?!?! So I have ended sticking to the tried and tested yet fab Fujiyama and The Lounge as I think newer is not always better and we shouldn’t forget all those other wonderful hidden nooks and crannies outside the market.

Trackbacks for this post

  1. Crap Match Report » onionbagblog
  2. The changing face of Brixton : Streatham Labour EMF

Comments are now closed for this article.

%d bloggers like this: