Andrew Edelston bought a flat in Brixton four years ago with his wife Polly and loves living in the area – but, he asks, what does he have to do to call himself a local?
I would never hit a child, but when a middle class six-year-old girl wearing wellington boots parades a “yuppies out” placard in your face, it’s hard.
Having bought a flat in Brixton four years ago, I still consider myself relatively new to the area and am no doubt the focus of this little girl’s fury.
Walking past boarded up delis and fish shops I feel guilty, stopping to read the graffiti thinking, “is this my fault? What can I do to help change this situation? Who do I know that would like a wig?”
Realising that I’m not going to buy a second hand fridge, it’s clear that some of these shops aren’t for me. But they’re not for this little girl or her parents either.
Many of the protesters so angered by the gentrification of the area are the very people who set it in motion – people who bought flats and houses in the area during the 90s and early noughties because it was what they could afford at the time.
These are the people I bought my flat off and the ones who have most benefited from the area’s gentrification.
The fact that they were stepping stones to this gentrification didn’t seem to bother them then. They now feel they’ve earned the territorial right to shut the door to anyone else who may want to benefit from the same opportunity.
They believe enough time has passed to forgive the social transgressions they purport to want rid of and claim the right to call themselves local. So when can I do the same?
What does it take and how long before you can call yourself local? Before you can pour your own self-righteous scorn on the next wave of gentrifiers?
As Hackney film maker Benedict Seymour described in his article “Shoreditch and the creative destruction of the inner city” which I only read for purposes of writing this, “Each wave of colonisers plays out the contradictions of their particular claim to space, taking sides against the next phase of gentrification in which they nevertheless conspire”.
Once you’re in, it’s only human nature to protect your interests and those of your friends and neighbours.
What does jam in the throat is when you then turn around so self-righteously and say, no more!
Maybe it’s a way to distance yourself from gentrification and solidify your status as a local community member. Maybe it’s a way to alleviate some of the guilt you feel for doing exactly the same thing. I can understand that feeling.
I look forward to the time I can shop in Brixton and not feel that people think I’m condescending when I genuinely would like to buy a scotch bonnet pepper.
But asking oblivious children to act as sandwich boards for your own hypocrisy… I can’t see that I would ever stoop so low.
I for one would never want my kid to be the standard bearer for beliefs they couldn’t possibly understand, and I certainly wouldn’t want them getting punched.
Perhaps Brixton has, in fact, now hit a perfect equilibrium and any further influx of wealth will ruin the place.
It’s an easy position to take when you’re the one benefiting from the presumption.
But you can’t freeze a place in time when it best suits you.
A certain amount of change is inevitable. It’s how you manage that change that is the issue.
It’s a very complex situation that I certainly don’t fully understand, but local and national government, policy makers, seem like a better focus for energy. Telling the next generation of yuppies to piss off is, at best, misguided and when delivered by their predecessors, hypocritical in the extreme.
I love living in Brixton and would like to, if not now, at least one day, consider myself a local. Until then I will continue to contribute to the local community and look forward to the day that I don’t feel guilty for moving here.
What I won’t do is wheel my children out waving placards, lambasting people for doing the exact same thing I did to help me feel that quicker.