This post was first published by The Croydon Citizen on 25/10/2017.
The de-gentrification of West Croydon
Gentrification: good thing or bad thing? You choose.
In the blue corner: isn’t Croydon starting to look nice? Nothing’s unaffordable – it’s just that different people can afford things now. Sure, it’s rough on some, but better than the old days when everywherelooked a bit rough. It’s the price of progress. Anyway, our houses are worth six times what we paid. Flat white and artisanal sourdough, anyone?
Meanwhile, over in the red corner, Croydonians are depicted as uniformly poor and downtrodden. Incomers are viewed with suspicion and not a single native of the borough, apparently, would welcome nicer shops. Stickers on lamp posts show local politicians who advocate change with devilish horns and tails. Let’s lob a brick through the window of Foxton’s.
What neither side says is that gentrification can stall, or even go into reverse. Where I live, it’s starting to happen.
It wasn’t the full-fledged ‘Big G’, but there were stirrings
I used to joke once, though it’s not so funny now, about the four horsemen of gentrification: the joggers, Ocado delivery vans, shops selling colourful and quirky children’s clothes made from organic cotton, and – predictably – the coffee joints. The signs of a neighbourhood that’s getting on the up. When I moved to West Croydon a few years back, just before property prices jumped as construction of the new Westfield shopping centre prepared to begin down the road, it already had two out of four. This wasn’t the full-fledged ‘Big G’, not yet, but there were stirrings.
Surely the riot damage from 2011 would soon be made good, since no local authority would leave its residents with the scars of traumatic violence for years on end? Wanna bet? Big promises were made about dealing with the litter. Did I mention there was to be a Westfield, any day now, and just down the road?
There undoubtedly has been some positive change since then: refurbished shop frontages, widened pavements, tree-planting and the partial repair of some riot-damaged areas although gaps and rubble from burnt out buildings still, appallingly, remain. But lasting change is all about building momentum. And it’s stuttering.
House prices soar as gentrification bites. It leads to two things: first, people living in larger groups to save money. There’s then overcrowding: down the road from me, seven or eight east European men share a small house. (They leave early each morning in a van, and look like construction workers). The place must be packed. It can’t possibly have pleasant communal space or offer any privacy.
Second: the provision of smaller and smaller housing units. Round the corner, a new refurb which I’d thought might be made into two or three flats suddenly has seven doorbells: micro-flats.
This is how slums are created
In cramped and noisy properties, residents feel stressed. They try to get outside to de-stress. The ethnic composition of Broad Green means there are very few pubs, so they drink in public space. They keep themselves to themselves while they do so – but there’s still something upsetting about fourteen men with beer cans on the corner of your street. Some of them, unfortunately, urinate there, and drop more litter in a place already strewn with it. Men who drink in large groups in the street also tend to become aggressive. When I heard of the stabbing in Handcroft Road on Saturday 14th October – just round the corner from two of the new street drinking areas – I immediately wondered if that was the cause.
Poverty. Transience. Overcrowding, Noise. Filth. Anti-social behaviour. Increasingly unstable communities.The flight of those able to leave. This is how slums are created.
Our cake and cappuccino emporium failed: there isn’t the demand in Broad Green. Now it’s a vape shop. The Tamil grocer has cut its opening hours. I think this is due to hassle from drinkers, particularly early in the morning. I regularly encounter them. One morning I went to buy milk and walked into an alcohol-fuelled argument involving racial slurs. My partner witnessed a separate incident following an attempt to buy a can of lager. The shopkeeper refused: come back at 9am and I’ll sell you that then, he said. The man, who’d been drinking already, just cracked the can open, shrugged, and handed over the money.
Fly-tipping continues. The tide of garbage ebbs and flows – intractable, it seems. There are community litter picks. The community also bickers; bad feeling exists. It’s probably the stress of living here. The place gets more and more depressing.
And what about that Westfield? Our pink unicorn shopping centre was originally due to open in 2018. Every year since that first announcement, the start date recedes by a year. A friend with a serious corporate job has chillingly observed that with a big bucks project like this, lengthy silence is generally a precursor to cancellation. The earliest that it could open now is 2022.
Meanwhile, in so far as the process had ever begun – West Croydon de-gentrifies.