This post was first published by The Croydon Citizen on 02/10/2017.
Have you thought about leaving Croydon?
“Have you thought about leaving Croydon?”
It’s a line of inquiry that’s anathema to me – but for a few Croydonians it’s something that is becoming more than just an idle thought experiment.
The reason for this?
Not the rising tide of litter, nor the apparent dilemma of knife crime. Nope, to the contrary, it’s because of all the incredible positive changes that are happening here that are resulting in Croydon’s booming housing market.
The flipside of Croydon becoming a housing hotspot
The titular question is usually levelled by those who follow the white-hot Croydon housing market. Tales abound of pound-signs-in-the-eyes sellers fortunate enough to be fetching prices that only several months ago would have been thought outlandish. Croydon is the place to be right now.
That 1,000 square-foot dwellings are now going for over half a million pounds has some Croydonians thinking: what are we still doing here?
Of course, the sudden influx of cash into our town has done much good. It’s no time to get nostalgic for the street crime and drug dealing once pervasive in some areas. But, nonetheless, the temptation for those who have been here before the boom is to get out while the going’s good.
Which makes me wonder: in all this frenetic activity, what happens to a town like Croydon when a stable – and stabilising – middle class seeks greener pastures?
Private homes serve a public good
“A house for sale is not a home”, Wendell Berry, an American novelist, once wrote.
His point is that once the home becomes only a commodity it ceases to be the locus of community life it should be. If we ever knew this, housing market booms tend to make us forget.
At its very best, the home is a place of hospitality and refuge for the individual and the stranger. It’s a place where children might be provided the stability needed to thrive. It’s where meals, grief, and joys are shared. And it’s a repository of communal memory.
Strong homes are vital to Croydon’s health, yet they take years – maybe decades – to build. Our private homes, then, serve a very public good.
This may sound naively, impossibly idealistic and hardly what many homes are like. But even naive idealism isn’t necessarily wrong. Indeed, the fact that “broken homes” often elicit sadness or anger is because we often have a niggling sense of what the home should be.
What is the cost of leaving Croydon?
Yet this good becomes increasingly thin as people become increasingly transient.
And it seems that the market economy which so threatens to create a market society only catalyses the restless search for more.
What’s lacking is fidelity. Fidelity to Croydon. Yet the virtue of fidelity most necessary for helping us create such outward-facing homes is the very one that a hot housing market seems bent on eroding.
Truth be told – despite my opening protestations to the contrary – I, too, am forced to consider: at what cost would I sever my ties with the town that has been my home for as long as I can remember?
Reasons to stay
Since my home has been open to friends and neighbours, what happens to my community if my home is removed from its membership?
Since I do not believe humans are replaceable widgets, what happens to those relationships we’ve cultivated over the years if we withdraw?
If my home is much more than a house, how might I better use it in service to the community of which I’m now a part?
Of course, there are many reasons to leave a place, and some of them are even good ones. But there are also many reasons to stay in a place, and I’d ask my Croydonian neighbours who might be considering cashing out to think about those, too.