“What it’s like to get kicked out of your neighborhood”

It really seems like talk of gentrification is everywhere lately. It may be that I’ve just been paying more attention to it, but I think if you live somewhere like London or San Francisco, it’s pretty hard not to notice the changes taking place. It was cool to see a video like this on a mainstream site like BuzzFeed, of a former Mission resident, Kai, who has been evicted from two different homes in San Francisco. While it doesn’t go too deep into the structural causes of gentrification, it does highlight the massive displacement of black and Latino communities in San Francisco, as well as the California policies that have facilitated this. Kai comments on the way the city is segregated by race and class and notes, “the wealth is directly related to people’s displacement from their homes”.

The topic of gentrification was even addressed in a recent Saturday Night Live sketch, which I think brilliantly comments on the intersection of gentrification and race. Why is it so funny to see black men on the corner discussing spin class and the new artisanal mayonnaise shop around the corner? Maybe because we know deep down that the supposed positive effects of gentrification (if 8 dollar mayonnaise can be considered a positive effect) rarely benefit anyone other than white, middle- to upper-class residents.

As (hopefully) more and more debate about gentrification unfolds, I really hope we see fewer people claiming that this is an inevitable process or that, you know, “it’s really all the hipsters’ fault”. We need to dig further into how our current economic system encourages eviction and displacement along race and class lines.

Advertisements

A walk through Haggerston in London’s Hackney

Haggerston is a neighborhood in the London borough of Hackney, which is classified as one of the most deprived areas of the UK. It is also a rapidly changing area as property values rise in conjunction with the “regeneration” of East London, especially since the 2012 Olympic Games were hosted very nearby. This walk was a preliminary mapping exercise that is part of a university project centering on East London.

The route of my walk:

Screen Shot 2013-11-16 at 5.20.25 PM.png

The London boroughs are huge and so this did not necessarily cover that much ground, but there were still many observations to be made. Most of my Hackney knowledge thus far is based around Hackney Road, which bustles with the sounds of cars, buses, the occasional siren. Veering away from there, however, I was surprised by just how much of Hackney seems to consist of housing. There are a large number of council estates (Britain’s form of social housing), but these have turned increasingly into privately-owned flats in recent years. Hackney was part of London’s urban sprawl in the 19th Century, home to a growing working class that fueled the city’s industry. Hints of the area’s history and current “regeneration” are quite evident when walking around, especially as estates and buildings with boarded-up windows, along with construction sites, are commonplace.

The route of my walk was random, but afterwards I gained further information about some of the structures that I saw from this document, published by the Hackney Society: http://www.hackneysociety.org/documents/Highlights_of_Haggerston1.pdf

East London

London is a city I still can’t quite put my finger on. Mainly, it’s so enormous that it seems impossible to try to think about it as one solitary entity. I am always shocked by how long it takes to traverse the city on bus or underground, making me evermore grateful for how everything in Paris is relatively close in comparison (people still get lazy in their respective quartiers, but it doesn’t usually take more than 20-30 minutes to cross the city on public transport.) And unlike Paris which has a definitive boulevard péripherique, London has no clear borders. It’s easy to tell that people aren’t always sure whether a certain neighborhood is in or outside of London. Perhaps it’s “outer London”? Not that it really matters. Though I do think that because of its much higher population and the gigantic, nebulous land area that London inhabits, certain neighborhoods can appear much more distinctive when traveling between them. In Paris it’s often just a matter of turning a street corner to find a completely new socio-economic/demographic/cultural makeup; in London you may have to travel farther, but the feeling of coming across a world-within-a-world is more apparent.

The world of central London has often left me a little at odds. Parts seem too commercial, like Times Square, or too bourgeois, like Paris’ Opéra quarter. The national monuments just don’t strike me with the same unapologetic romanticism as they do in Paris. I was eager to find neighborhoods a little off the beaten path that might interest me more. So last time I visited, Gary and I looked for something a little different to do on a (yep) rainy day and settled on a free “alternative” tour of East London. We braved the lightly sprinkling rain as our guide showed us old markers in the road that serve as the border between the City of London and East London (another system of borders I still don’t understand) and off we went to explore Brick Lane and the surrounding area. Besides being the site of what is probably the highest concentration of curry houses in the world, this neighborhood has been home to many different groups and immigrant communities. For one reason or another, it has also served as a chosen canvas for the incredible work of local and international street artists.

The Brick Lane Masjid, or mosque, is a perfect example of East London’s layered mulit-cultural history. Built in 1743 as a Protestant chapel for French Hugeunots who had escaped persecution in France, it was later adopted as a synagogue for Jewish refugees and finally as a mosque for the growing Bangladeshi community.

We saw a few pieces by a Belgian artist named Roa, who primarily paints giant black-and-white animals on the sides of buildings. This recent and particularly haunting piece is in color, though. Gotta wonder if he’s a vegetarian.
Continue reading “East London”