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.
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”.