This article was first published on The Croydon Citizen on 20/10/2016
A gentrification manifesto: making it work for Croydon
Gentrification, a term coined by Ruth Glass in the ’60s, is about the displacement of low-income families and small businesses due to redevelopment and regeneration in a town or city. The media highlights the incredible development and growth of a city due to new business and housing developments, but fails to talk about what it means for those already barely surviving in the area.
How many people shared the incredible images of the damage that the Olympics did to Rio’s neighbourhoods? Who shared the pictures of the unfinished pipe works and the family businesses ripped down to make room for ‘regeneration’? Not nearly enough people.
With major corporates relocating to Croydon over the last few years, including Chanel, the Body Shop and EDF Energy, someone somewhere knows something pretty damn exciting about the future of Croydon. Enter Boxpark this month and Westfield in 2020, and there is a day not too far from now where young professionals will be fighting for property in Croydon as it rivals East London as the cool kid of the capital.
Gone are the days when living in Croydon meant proudly donning the Croydon facelift and wondering how many people you will bump into in Reflex on a Friday night. The days of ‘SARF LANDAN’ references and an undeserved disrespect for the budding city even by its own residents.
What does this mean for the businesses who do remember those days, the small independent bars and chains? The people who have grown up in Croydon and have nostalgia for the low property prices, five shots for the price of one, and breakfast for under a fiver?
Croydon commercial and residential prices are being pushed up and trendy residential spaces are making us the new hub of business, or the new ‘Silicon Valley’ (a term I am highly on board with, for the record, even if just for the LOLs).
You can now attend a Croydon Tech City networking lunch before you head on over to check out 3D printing at super trendy TMRW hub, and wrap it all up with a burger and beer at Matthews Yard. Croydon needs this. It is literally screaming out for regeneration and why not? It’s 18 minutes to central London. and now houses some of the country’s largest corporate organisations.
It is a truly exciting time, full of innovation and promise, and it’s our turn, right? Young professionals, get ready! The solution is Croydon.
You just might not be able to actually afford it.
Professional people have lived in Croydon for years and commuted to London due to the affordable housing. We cannot now push them further into the suburbs during the regeneration. Perhaps it is reasonable to consider we follow in the steps of Boston and Philadelphia, who froze residential and commercial taxes for those who have lived in the cities for ten years before regeneration began. The governments of those cities did so to protect and pay dividends to those who stayed through years of high crime, riots, low property values and untidy streets.
So who is protecting our low-income residents? Let’s not all sit in our big boardrooms talking about what we are going to do to support the lower income classes in Croydon. Let’s ask them, what do they struggle with? What are they worried about?
I spoke to a young couple renting in Croydon who aren’t sure where to go next if their rent is pushed up during the regeneration. Of course they can move further into the suburbs, but it has a huge impact on their commute and their social life. Not to mention they already spend 80% of their combined income on rent. Croydon was supposed to be their solution, the answer to working in London when they moved here. Let’s not send them back to Scotland because they can’t afford our rent.
Now, as a private landlord in Croydon, this may seem a little disingenuous as I look to push up rent and make my pennies anyway I can. It’s a vicious cycle, though. I am one of those lucky enough to have bought before in Croydon while it was still affordable, and you can be damn certain I will be keeping it for the next ten years before I sell and make my millions.
Then there are the extremes of this situation, where commuting and social quality of life are the least of people’s worries, while just affording to survive the week is the problem. It’s the price of commercial property and office space that is still the issue. The small businesses will soon struggle to compete.
So what can we do? We shouldn’t just rely on boardroom-dwellers and local government to sort things out. We can’t afford that risk. So I’ve got some ideas. Buy local – this has to be the biggest way to support our local economy. We must be advocates of our local talent, of our budding entrepreneurs and our heart-warming local family businesses. Do not use central London-based suppliers. Don’t hire from the City. The talent is here, and there are hundreds of networks that can put you in touch with the right people.
The large corporations and networks now setting up in Croydon can make sure we reduce the impact of the revival (how Goodwood of us!) by using our local freelance and small business talent. Look to the guys in our Surrey Street market if you need catering for an event, or fresh produce for your Sunday roast, and pop into pretty little Maurice Hyde in South Croydon for your flowers.
Kudos to Croydon Tech City, Sussex Innovation Centre and Shaking Hands, all of whom are promoting local business and trading within our lovely town. The change comes from us, though: from individuals who have the decision on where we buy our flowers, on where we source our web developers, and if we buy our morning paper from the local corner shop.
We must balance our excitement for regeneration with an awareness of our current local community. Otherwise Reflex will be just one of many closures that twenty-somethings will have to mourn for. And don’t even get us started on losing Escapades.