#SaveBrickLane: The gentrification of London's communities

Image credit: Nik via Unsplash.

Brick Lane, one of London’s most famous streets, is located in the borough of Tower Hamlets. It is the home of many South Asians, predominantly the Bangladeshi community who migrated and built their home and identity in Brick Lane by opening restaurants and curry houses. As well as a home to the Bangladeshi community, Brick Lane is also a touristic location whereby visitors take a trip to explore the urban street art, vintage markets, antique accessories, galleries and lots more. Brick Lane is an important landmark, representing identity, culture and home.

However, recent news regarding a redevelopment of Brick Lane to introduce more office space, restaurants and gyms to give it a modern look has been announced. This redevelopment was proposed by the Old Truman Brewery Limited who argued that a change will allow for new businesses to settle, more open spaces resulting in less anti-social behaviour and an overall benefit to the local community as there would be a growth in jobs opportunities.

Despite these positive features, the local community of Brick Lane believe they will be at a large disadvantage because of their social and cultural background. For example, corporate offices are unlikely to hire local people apart from for roles such as “security guards, cashiers and cleaners”. Therefore, opponents have been vocal with their objections and protested from Altab Ali Park to Brick Lane where residents, councillors and curry house owners gave speeches, showing solidarity and support against the redevelopment proposal. This has been published on social media gathering awareness through the hashtag #SaveBrickLane and #BattleForBrickLane’ which has been a success to an extent as the development plans have been delayed after more than 7000 objections.

Moreover, the redevelopment will push out the existing residents as rent prices will increase since such improvement causes inflation. This will produce fear and anxiety upon business owners based in Brick Lane as they have just managed through the impact of Covid-19 on their business and finance. Another obstacle like the redevelopment can negatively impact their mental health and business goals.  

Birgit Anja who works at Onimos Vintage clothing store in Brick Lane stated “the character of Brick Lane is small businesses – creative and vintage ones especially”.

Essentially, this proposal will only work towards promoting capitalism and collapse the character of Brick Lane by driving the local community, small businesses and culture out. The proposal seeks to introduce high-street shops, restaurants and corporate businesses that facilitate economic power. The local community are being completely disregarded in terms of how they will be impacted physically and mentally which emphasises that the local community’s livelihoods are not being prioritised.

Although Old Truman Brewery Limited insisted that the proposed development would not lead to any displacement, it can certainly reduce their rate of customers and profit which have not been taken into consideration as high street shops will have a range of prices and affordability for consumers. This would eventually drive out the cultural aspects of Brick Lane and pre-existing businesses as they may not be able to afford to pay the rent of their place and keep the business running with lots of close competition. This action can completely erase Brick Lane’s unique heritage.

Redevelopment is a process of gentrification eradicating the history of immigration and the cultural authenticity of the area. Brick Lane is one of the many locations in London that exhibits diversity, thus the importance of #SaveBrickLane. Gentrification occurs when “communities experience an influx of capital and concomitant goods and services in locales where those resources were previously non-existent or denied”.

While some argue that gentrification can be beneficial due to providing “exposure to lower poverty rates”, it arguably does more harm than good for communities.  Gentrification usually results in forced displacement, discriminatory behaviour towards lower-class communities and excludes low-income individuals. This is because a redevelopment allowing for commercial profit will cause rent prices to increase eventually making the local community helpless to give up their homes and move out of the neighbourhood to fit their economic background.

Researchers have found out that elderly people are mostly affected by gentrification because they will be surrounded by social changes that are, in effect, eliminating their collective identity and social networks that have been built and strengthened over the years.

Similarly, gentrification in Peckham, an area home to large Black communities, has disappointed BAME residents. It has been said to feel like a divided neighbourhood after the 2008 financial crash, property prices rising (45.7% increase between 2014-18) and redevelopments that have taken place. This has caused many BAME residents to leave. Twenty-five-year-old Kemi draws on this feeling, as she argues that her relationship with London has changed over time. She feels displaced and unwelcomed, especially as a queer Black woman that originates from a marginalised community.

She is quoted saying, “I used to love living here but I'm uncertain about the future for people of colour as a lot of our spaces are being gentrified. Nigerian-owned businesses and occupants in the area will have to find somewhere else to live."

The insights gained here highlight that the proposal does not benefit the residents and businesses in Brick Lane. It would have been splendid if new proposals were created for new housing given that Tower Hamlets has the third-highest number of people on the housing register. Krissie Nicolson supported this statement as she argued that the “proposal that the council is gearing up to approve would only price out and push out long-established local communities and deepen the housing crisis”.