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Osgerby: The cost of gentrification

BY PAUL OSGERBY | OCTOBER 30, 2014 5:00 AM

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Osgerby is studying abroad at City University, London.

About seven years ago, Dalston, an eastern neighborhood in the London Borough of Hackney, hit a point of crossroads. Previously, the area had been known for its railway connections, markets, theaters, and a large Jewish and Turkish population.

Fast-forward to now. When walking down Kingsland Road from the Dalston Kingsland rail station, the street is littered with nightclubs and off-license alcohol shops. Behind that, the spires of newly built lofts jut out with huge glass panes and guarded CCTV monitors, costing upwards of £400 per week for rent.

At night, drunken slurs and shouts fill the air by the 20-something-year-olds drinking cheap beer or liquor on the street between destinations. It is considered the prime example of recent gentrification in London, overrun by “trustafarian hipsters.

Dalston and other Hackney neighborhoods have become rapidly redeveloped in the wake of the 2012 London Olympics. Hackney was one of the six boroughs of London to play host for the games.
The goal was to transform the East End into a sustainable place to live, exhibiting vibrant creativity as an image for the United Kingdom. Also, the plan wanted to appeal to younger generations.

The outcome was problematic. New housing prices were well outside of affordability. Subsequently, the rich moved inward toward the redeveloped centers, pushing those who were already living there, more often than not with lower incomes, to outer neighborhoods and lowering market values.

Too often, however, the tale of gentrification occurs where the alternative, affluent youth are spending money on nightlife, following the “edgy” artistic community that are seeking cheaper residencies or studios in typically run-down neighborhoods. Once the money gets injected, and prices skyrocket.

Back home, I see a very similar process.

It’s already well documented that tech yuppies have taken over stark numbers of neighborhoods in Seattle because of Microsoft and Amazon. Less recognized are the defunct warehouses being redeveloped into shopping centers in former ghettos of St. Louis to cater to middle-class families. Even in Iowa City, the new multi-purpose high-rises being built downtown only accommodate those with upper middle-class incomes.

“Urban renewal” is just another word for gentrification. It ruins the existing diverse ethnic communities that each holds their own history and character. It should be alarming.

Redeveloping old, lower-income buildings costs a lot of money. In turn, prices to let or own these properties must go up for sake of developer profit. The end product only feasibly appeals to those with money, displacing former families that further separates socioeconomic diversity.

If diversity is thought to help create open-minded education by School Boards, evidenced in Iowa City’s, how does gentrification aid that mission? It doesn’t.

So what’s next? Try to find the new Dalston (here’s a hint, it’s Forest Gate)? 

Instead, I believe municipalities should seek ways to repurpose neighborhood connections to incorporate socioeconomic diversity as a means of growing communities.


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