Gentrify this: the pros and cons of urban development

Sunday 18 October, 14.00 until 15.30, Frobisher Auditorium 2, Barbican Battle for our Cities

From a media storm over the opening of a pricey ‘Cereal Killer’ cafe in Shoreditch to the trashing of an estate agent’s in Brixton, there is growing resentment across London at gentrification pricing out or excluding poorer local residents.

‘Hackney Heroine’ Pauline Pearce last year compared the hipsters in ‘beards and bobble hats’ to the 2011 rioters in terms of their divisive impact on local communities, whilst Deptford residents lobbied unsuccessfully to change the name of a novelty pub located in the area’s former Job Centre. Meanwhile, demands that new builds provide some provision for socially affordable housing has led to controversy over ‘poor doors’ and complaints that such accommodation is often sub-standard or circumvented by resentful developers selling to overseas buyers, leaving lucrative properties empty in London’s desperately over-subscribed market. In response to fears that young families and under-35s are being priced out of buying property, lobby groups such as Generation Rent have argued for tough measures and rent controls to help to temper the soaring cost of living in the capital.

Yet some commentators are sceptical about the ability and desirability of such policies to counter gentrification. They argue that the explosion of niche pop-up shops and cafes are part of the healthy regeneration of poor areas which, a generation ago, were being abandoned by population flight. Others point out that rent controls have proven enormously counter-productive in similar cities such as New York, either depressing the number of rental properties available or acting as a subsidy for already wealthy urbanites. The only solution, from this perspective, is an urgent increase in the number of houses being built in London and surrounding areas. Yet given the failures of successive governments to stimulate effective house-building, and the restrictive nature of planning laws in high-density areas, others counter that short-term interventions are required to avoid London’s vibrant areas from becoming sanitised playgrounds for the super-rich.

Are campaigns against gentrification driven by a genuine anxiety around social fairness or nostalgia against changing neighbourhoods? Does regeneration generally improve residents’ lives in deprived areas or simply price them out? Should policy-makers take a more interventionist approach to preserve cultural diversity or does such interference risk killing off the entrepreneurial an drive which makes gentrified areas so desirable? Does antipathy to hipsters really have much to do with broader questions of social housing and fairness?

Watch the debate

Niall Crowley
freelance designer and writer

Laia Gasch
special assistant to Deputy Mayor for Culture, Mayor's Office; chair of trustees, Chats Palace Arts Centre

Phineas Harper
deputy director, The Architecture Foundation

David Orr
chief executive, National Housing Federation

Barbara Speed
staff writer, CityMetric, New Statesman

Neil Davenport
sociology and politics teacher; writer on culture; former music journalist

Produced by
David Bowden associate fellow, Academy of Ideas; culture writer
Neil Davenport sociology and politics teacher; writer on culture; former music journalist
Recommended readings
Gentrification is good for neighbourhoods

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Anwar Oduro-Kwarteng, Debating Matters, 28 August 2015

Reclaim Brixton: Gentrifiers Against Gentrification

Middle-class moaning ignores the real causes of the housing crisis.

James Heartfield, Spiked, 28 April 2015

Gentrification in Brixton: who wins, who loses and who's to blame?

These are only people who have been priced out of Clapham and Fulham. No one should feel guilty because everyone in some way is in a sense complicit.

Morgan Meaker, New Statesman, 26 April 2015

Gentrification is ripping the heart out of communities

Urban gentrification is transforming the capital but neighbourhoods still need chippies and cheap Chinese and Indian restaurants to preserve character

Jay Rayner, Guardian, 29 March 2015

Gentrification: Bring on the hipsters

Gentrification is good for the poor

Economist, 19 February 2015

Gentrification: why we need more of it

The Hackney brasserie debacle shows we need more gentrification, not less.

Niall Crowley, spiked, 20 June 2014

Why this 'Shoreditchification' of London must stop

The relentless hipsterfication of run-down urban areas leaves a bad taste in Alex Proud's mouth

Alex Proud, Telegraph, 13 January 2014

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