UCL Minds


S1 Ep2: transcript

There are two sides to the gentrification debate and in Episode 2 of the UCL Future Cities Podcast, we are discussing how London is a city of paradoxes. We'll be looking at the system of gentrification in-depth: at the positives outcomes of urban development, plus the negative impacts it has on marginalised communities.

Gentrification has become synonymous with London. While being a system of development, gentrification has created a city of paradoxes. In this episode, we'll be examining how can a city like London contain such extreme divisions between wealth and poverty? Why do we keep building homes that no one can afford? Is it possible to do gentrification in a better, fairer way? Listen to special guests Professor Christoph Lindner, Dean of The Bartlett, UCL’s Faculty of the Built Environment, Hannah Sender, Research Fellow at the UCL Institute of Global Prosperity and Thul Khan, Housing Solicitor at the UCL Integrated Legal Advice Clinic discuss this and more.

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How gentrification has created a city of paradoxes

Thul Khan  0:02  
You know, this is a national issue before the government needs to actually step in.

Christoph Lindner  0:09  
This is Future Cities, the series that brings together some of the people exploring and shaping what our cities could be like in the future. I'm Professor Christoph Lindner, Dean of The Bartlett Faculty of the Built Environment at UCL. And in this first series, we're looking at the future of London, where I'm speaking to you from here at UCL, London's leading multidisciplinary University, right in the heart of the city, with the British Museum, the green squares of Bloomsbury, and the bustle of Tottenham Court Road, all on our doorstep. Episode Two is about gentrification and marginalisation because we live in a city of paradox. A paradox where gentrification creates new energies, vibes and momentum in the city, but also marginalises and excludes people. So helping me tackle this issue is Hannah Sender, a PhD candidate and research fellow at the UCL Institute of Global Prosperity, and Thul Khan, a housing solicitor at the UCL Integrated Legal Advice Clinic. And let's start off by dealing with our keyword gentrification. What do we mean by gentrification? And as it happens, this is a term that was coined right here at UCL by the urban sociologist Ruth Glass, in a book called London aspects of change back in 1964. So the term gentrification has been around for over 50 years. And it's grown in popularity and usage, right across disciplines in the humanities, social sciences, and art and design fields. But what does it mean? And there are many ways of defining it and lots of competing understandings. But I think in the in the broadest simplest terms, gentrification involves the involuntary displacement of an existing resident community by a more affluent, or socio economically privileged group. But of course, since it was first coined in 1964, cities have changed a great deal, the way that cities are designed and planned has changed a great deal. And today we talk of lots of flavours and variations of gentrification. There's super gentrification, hyper gentrification, eco gentrification, Techno gentrification, and I'm sure many other forms of it. And we're here today to think about the future of gentrification in a global city like London. And so Hannah, and Thul, do you have any initial thoughts on what gentrification means to you?

Hannah Sender  3:00  
Actually, I wanted to pick up on something that you said just then Christoph, about displacement is something that is really interesting to me. And I think that displacement can take many different forms. So something that I've been talking with young people about is feeling as they go being displaced without actually being physically relocated. And I imagined that that's something that might have come up in two hours work. I was wondering if we could talk a little bit more about that.

Thul Khan  3:33  
Yes, I think in my area of work, I think you say the word gentrification is also very loaded. And it's a term that, obviously, is a pejorative of all of my clients and myself working in the sector. Also, were based in Stratford. Obviously, I think it's known nationally with the Olympics in 2012. But what we're seeing is actually because of, I mean, it has bought benefits, if you like in terms of the Olympic site, and the park and new flats being built. But what they also learned is that has led to increased rents, it's led to a sense that the local community have not basically been sort of been ignored, really, in terms of what it means he should should be there for the community. So yeah, I think it's definitely a very loaded word and conjures up lots of lots of meanings and emotions for for my clients.

Christoph Lindner  4:25  
Would it be fair to say that gentrification is a word that evokes one of the greatest tensions running through a city like London, which is the tension between a vision of London as a bright, dynamic, prosperous city, plugged into the flows and luxuries of global capital, and on the other side of view of London as a place of widening gap between rich and poor, a place that's unaffordable, unwelcoming and In many ways, kind of hostile and even environmentally dangerous to, to human life. And that of course, I'm, I'm offering two extreme versions there. But I wonder is gentrification, something that straddles that spectrum of versions of London? 

Thul Khan  5:15  
Yeah I mean, I think I think it depends on who you ask the question two, really, I think, if he was to ask on our kind of neutral level, we're going to come in when we're going to redevelop this, this this area, which, you know, predominately normally as a low income, socio economic level, we're going to improve it by improving the flats, quality of accommodation, amenities, and also the level. Yes, it's a positive thing. But I feel the tension is obviously, you know, who are the kind of the main stakeholders in this? So if you're something that's attainable for all, especially those who were live, who have lived in, in communities in the areas for for generations, then yes, I say it's good for all, but I think it's more as always unfortunate winners and losers. Not sure. Maybe this is just a reflection of market forces we live in. But yes, of course, there is always tension and this question is a question that's been going on for 20-30 years, not just in London, but across the world. So yeah, I don't think unfortunately, is not an easy answer to or solution, because I have seen in my work, the benefits as well have to say redevelopment. But also, you know, those who are who are who are sort of losers, if you like,

Christoph Lindner  6:24  
could you talk a little bit about some of the benefits that you've observed.

Thul Khan  6:27  
From my work in Stratford, I would say, obviously, the Olympic Park, I think before before the Olympics, I've been to Stratford or Newham, and Newham is one of the most deprived boroughs in in the country. And I think what the Olympics has done, it has shone a light on it, you know, so, you know, when it was announced- Olympics, London has won the bid, you know, focus turned to Newham in Stratford. So, yes, it has benefits in terms of putting it on the map. I mean, also, we've looked football team moving into it as well. There's obviously outreach work with Western United, and also with developers in the area. So I personally know someone that lives in sort of East Village block, and I've personally visited it, and it's very pretty. It's easy on the eye. And obviously, it's led to accommodation for for those for, for single people, those who are not able to afford it before. So what has happened is, I think it's part of the development there was there's an allocation for affordable rent, quote, unquote, properties. But what the converse of that asthma is actually, it's not actually affordable for for most of my clients, because these tenancies are still market rents still very, you know, very limited security. If you look behind the veneers, I think on the face of it, it looks very, you know, you can see the benefits, but I think it's we've scratched the surface, then you see the kind of problems.

Hannah Sender  7:50  
Yeah, because I think that housing, ultimately is the deciding factor here. There are a lot of amazing initiatives that are happening in East London, that probably wouldn't have happened without the Olympics and the kind of regeneration after that. But ultimately, you know, heard that the new kind of east bank area will become like the New South Bank, and you know, it's semi shiny images, and those kind of mock up visions of what the area's gonna look like. And you just think that's really gonna spell doom for a lot of people who won't be able to afford to stay there, and rising rents rising house prices, that's going to be the deciding factor. I think, for a lot of people, you know, even if transport links are improved, you know, or shopping facilities are improved, and maybe there's a bit of job creation, is it going to be enough for people to afford those rents? Probably not. And that's the scary thing, I think.

Christoph Lindner  9:02  
So it's interesting, Hannah, that you reference those shiny images. And so many neighbourhoods in London, have those shiny development images, showing renderings of the apartments and the commoner, shopping and restaurant amenities that are coming to the neighbourhood. And of course, they're designed to be aspirational. They're designed to seduce us. They're designed to bring us on board with the future vision of the neighbourhood. But at the same time, we tend to also recognise what those images are portending right, we tend to recognise the way that those slick, futuristic, impossibly clean luxury apartments, what they actually mean for the local neighbourhood and so in a way they become harbingers of of gentrification, and I'm wondering if you've encountered in your work with local communities, people responding to all of that visual hype about future development?

Hannah Sender  10:09  
That's a really good question. And I think the example that strikes me first is, funnily enough in Camden, where the Institute for progress has been working recently. I've been working with young people kind of mid to late adolescence, and a lot of them lever on the HS two area. And, you know, there's been obviously a huge amount of redevelopment and relocation as a result of the HST development. But also, there's been kind of improvement in housing stock, and some kind of new shiny buildings are literally being built. And I say, a lot of the young people that I've spoken to feel quite conflicted about these images, but also what they're physically seeing being built in their areas. They don't feel as though these buildings are for them, they don't anticipate being able to stay in Camden for much longer. And they, they have a sense that they're going to have to move out and that they won't be able to afford to live in these these places. But I think it has a wider, wider impact on them, too, because it also affects how they live day to day, you know, the places they go to how they feel, they can dress, how many people they feel they can meet, you know, in a public space on the street, whether they feel like they're being watched, you know, it comes with all of these changes to their lived environments. And I think that they try to kind of navigate that in their day to day lives. But I would say in the long term, they feel as though they're being pushed out. So that's

Christoph Lindner  12:03  
kind of a gloomy picture that you're painting there, Hannah. This the sort of aura of impending doom hanging over the neighbourhood where I suppose home is not secure. that's ultimately what what you're saying that home is not secure. And to all in the communities that you work with? Do you have other specific examples of how people are affected by gentrification? Is it similar in eastland? as to what Hannah's describing in Camden?

Thul Khan  12:37  
Yeah, is actually very common. I just just came to mind actually, in terms of case I was working on many years ago, this is this is the state called copies of carpenters estate, which is right bang worked right by the Olympic site. And it's been earmarked for, for redevelopment for five, six years. And actually, I was assisting a client who was he was a council tenant has been there for many, many years and receive a letter form process so that, you know, this error will be redeveloped and we'll have to rehouse you, it was just on a stove. So politically loaded, it's so controversial, and not single person, the client or anyone else has said to me that this is a good vehicle. Yes. And I'm happy because it's all a case of what about me, we're just you're just moving the redevelopment area, putting in, you know, really expensive flats, and you're, you're forgetting about us and putting us somewhere else in an undesirable part of normal, or the area. So I think the point you made about the sort of the visual hypomania is quite interesting turban. And yeah, if it was just we talk about potential properties that clients can overlook to live in, and what's affordable, and they know about developments in here, and then all about a nice village and all about coppices estate, but it's just a case of well, it's not it's not even worth talking about. They know it's not for them. And this is fair, long term that, you know, where am I going to go? And and from a housing point of view, you know, we've seen the massive cuts from the government in social welfare in terms of housing. And I think the bigger issue has to do with that it's due to the lack of not building affordable social housing, the government has basically allowed or basically trying to say, look, this private developers, they will now they're here, that's kind of they're going to fill the gap, which, you know, is clearly there's a bigger issues. I feel, you know, this is a national issue. And I thought the government needs to actually step in, because the way it's going in London is going to be a city for just a very, very few that's just for the

Christoph Lindner  14:29  
rich. Yeah, you make a very important point there. And when both you and Hannah, were speaking, it made me wonder, who is London for so the kind of future trajectory that we're currently on? Who will London be available and accessible to in the coming decades and tool you're making a quite alarming point that more and more London is designed for and accessible to the wealthy at the expense Potentially, of the poor and the less privileged. All of this makes me want to turn to something that London is internationally infamous for, which is the phenomenon of zombie housing and ghost mansions. So London is not alone in this, but it's one of the big global cities, where increasingly property is being bought as an investment, but not inhabited. It's not a place where people live. And we can walk in different neighbourhoods in London, and probably recognise and point out those areas, those developments that are almost custom designed from the beginning to become zombie housing and ghost mansions. Have you observed this phenomenon in the areas where you work?

Hannah Sender  15:46  
Yes, I have observed it. But I think I've observed it through the eyes of the young people that I work with. One of the young women that I work with her father is a cab driver. And he sometimes takes it to school and they drive along the street close to Regent's Park. And they go past a particular house. And they have a joke, which is that they one day we'll buy that house and live there. And we asked this young woman Oh, do you know who lives there now? And she said, Oh, I have you know, do you happen to know that the person who owns the house, they don't live there. Because they know the maid and the maid just takes care of the house. But the person who bought the house and is meant to be living in it is never there is never at home. So she's got this aspiration to live in this beautiful mansion next to Regent's Park. But she also knows that the person who owns it isn't there. And that's for me, kind of sad image, I guess of, of inequality through young people's eyes.

Christoph Lindner  17:00  
Yeah, sorry, I'm just a little bit speechless, because it's such such a sad, sad story. And I suppose that's something that gets replayed. All around London, I've done that myself, walking, walking past apartments and houses and even mentions that are clearly uninhabited, vast amounts of space, beautiful interiors, but also sometimes neglected and almost semi abandoned, because it's just an kind of empty repository of capital, just parking money and waiting for the investment to mature. So there are lots of versions of zombie housing, lots of versions of ghost mentions around London, but I guess what they evoke is that sense of inaccessibility to housing, and 12. Do you have thoughts on what London needs to do to actually make more housing affordable to more people?

Thul Khan  17:51  
So make it more affordable for people? I think it's quite simply just building building more social housing. Appreciate a government's mantra is that aspirational housing. So you know what that is? It's it owning your property. So I think this is a cultural issue as well, I think I think it's trying to maybe, maybe reword or rephrase or the debate really about housing in UK. And so I think for most people, now, even the middle classes, I think owning a property, especially in London is a non starter for many people now. So I feel if if it's the renter sector, that will now to pick up the burden from Georgia housing, and that needs to be more regulated. And I feel, as well as building social housing needs to regulate and make rental property, something that's actually desirable, not not a place that people just forced into living. So have many properties, there's many properties that are just for fixed term for six months or 12 months. So I think it's been a weeks of longer term, 10 years. Just the quality of housing as well, needs to be needs to be, you know, dealt with more regulation on that on that part. But I feel a longer term for social housing. Because even for those, you know, try renting is too unaffordable, and is, you know, there's many, many people with pots for society who won't be able to afford by renting. So I think social housing is something that should be designed to be ago and should be something that, you know, it should it shouldn't be this attitude that you should be grateful for soldier housing, you know, it's a right you know, having a having decent good housing is a human right, which I just thought the government and as you today's as well, you know, you should be grateful for living in London, you know, and that's the sad really, because I think London, the beauty of the city is that we have everyone living side by side, you know, different cultures, different socio economic people, you know, it's a beautiful thing, living side by side.

Hannah Sender  19:39  
That's one thing that young people also really value. If you ask people, you know, what's the thing that you'd love the most about this area, always guarantee that they will say it's to do with the diversity of the people who live there. They love the mix of people who live in their area. And I think it's time that we recognise the value that that diversity can bring to a place having people from different ethnicities, different educational backgrounds, you know, with lots of different things to bring to an area, they have a right to be there. And I think that it's something that young people especially value and want to stay in London for, is certainly why I like being in London. So, unfortunately, housing inequality contributes to the homogenization of of areas, we need to recognise that people have a right to be in their neighbourhoods and to be able to stay if they want to.

Christoph Lindner  20:44  
So you've both advocated for the need for more social housing, and also better quality housing. How do you respond to some of the recent proposals conversations that are starting around London, to turn unused office space in the city into apartments, to remake high streets and abandoned commercial shopping spaces into apartments? Is that the right way, a good way to create more housing? Will that give us the kind of quality of housing we like,

Hannah Sender  21:20  
was it Dani duelling, who said that there's actually enough housing in London or enough bedrooms in London for every single person in London to sleep separately in their own bedroom. So this isn't really necessarily an issue of availability, so much as an issue of accessibility. I think, you know, we talked to just now about zombie housing, there are just so many already existing places that are meant to be used slept in, lived in, which aren't being used or set in or lived in. And I don't think that, you know, we should necessarily be converting all of our building stock into housing, and certainly, you know, not raising a lot of these places to the ground, like shopping centres and so on to the ground to build more housing that people can't afford. So I think that's the issue is, it's decoupling the kind of finance, I guess, your capacity to kind of bank money and save money, and make money through housing, and the right to have a place to live a decent place to live?

Christoph Lindner  22:34  
So if we start to turn this back towards gentrification, I'm wondering, how do we know if the neighbourhood is gentrifying? What are the signs? What are the trends? tool in East London? For example? What does gentrification look feel taste and smell like?

Thul Khan  22:55  
I guess in a word, I guess, maybe speaker Seville's hops, then traditionally often is probably the new tool, the kind of like the term of gentrification in London I was aware of I mean, when I was a teenager, in Brick Lane in those days, a small little Indian cafe used to go to and it closed down and turned into a trendy, trendy restaurant, you see, sort of type of more kind of different types of restaurants or cafes want to see before. And you'll see, you know, maybe a new cinema, you know, comes on board in Hackney, we used to work in the picture house opened about 10 years ago. And also as well as obstetrician see new flats and signs for for new new flats and things like that. So they're the kind of the obvious ones you see, and then all sudden, you'll see the minister, the makeup of the community. So you do see changes in terms of people, you see people access community. So yeah, they're the kind of obvious things I've seen

Hannah Sender  23:54  
tars why obviously, you see the changes in the shops. Actually a funny one example that I have is from Dalston. So I live in taught them by Guy stole some quite a lot. And you walk down the ATM. And you notice that quite a few organic grocery shops have popped up recently, in the last few years. And I think that reflects the kind of demographic change of the area. More kind of young professionals have moved in. Quite a few families have bought houses down the side streets. And a lot of the kind of Turkish run kind of convenience stores have changed. And initially, I thought, well, you know, they can't afford to run anymore, and they've sold and they've gone elsewhere. And an organic kind of bougie shop has taken its place. And I found out that actually a lot of the Turkish shop owners had just rebranded so they recognise that the change is happening in their area. And they change the shopfront. They made the changes to their stock and you know, they sell organic food now, they have a little coffee cart, you know, selling flat whites. And yeah, I just think such a neat little example of strategies that people have to deal with or even make the most of gentrification and change.

Christoph Lindner  25:33  
That's really interesting, because when you started talking about organic, I was going to ask you is organic a word we should be afraid of? Is that a kind of a signal of gentrification, but actually, what you're describing is the appropriation of one of the signals of gentrification by the local community in order to enable that local community to endure and sit and thrive. Yeah, so I suppose there are versions of hipster furcation that can be empowering, or at least enable the local community to be part of the transformation of that neighbourhood. And

Hannah Sender  26:13  
it also depends on who the local community is, and the resources they have at their disposal. You know, I think sometimes it's easy to think that everyone who had been living in an area previously has been kicked out. But actually, a lot of people, for example, might be owners of, you know, large properties. And they might be able to do quite well as a result of the demographic change. For example, I think it really sounds so obvious, but it really depends on people's kind of personal circumstances.

Christoph Lindner  26:57  
So sometimes what looks like gentrification may not entirely be gentrification?

Hannah Sender  27:03  
I think it probably is gentrification. I think it just depends what you mean by identification. But if we take gentrification to be signalled by certain images or words, then I would say a lot of people can participate in that in different ways.

Thul Khan  27:25  
Again, this goes back to who you know who axes the axis them really, my experience is that when you know Westworld, you're talking about you know, as well as Westwood, you do have the old shopping centre still there, which is on the other side of Stratford Do you know if you know that area or not or notice shopping, shopping mall, but it's quite a nice visual reminder if you'd like golf, or colour new Stratford pre Olympics, or pre fill identification. And now so and he's still I mean, before there was talk about it will close down this this old shopping mall, but it's actually still thriving. And I feel in my experience that the local community are using or accessing the shopping mall also, then westville because obviously, Westfield is all tied into a high brands, fast fashion with Olympic Park. So again, it's who's able to use that access and do local community or not, or do not feel it's still accessible to them

Christoph Lindner  28:19  
on a slightly lighter note, but nonetheless, a very loaded note, I want to ask for your advice on donuts. And the reason I raised this is in my neighbourhood in northwest London, I won't get more specific than that. On a new street in the neighbourhood, a new bakery slash donut shop has opened. And it's one of those kind of classic hipster food places where you have boutique organic, you know, handcrafted glazed doughnuts, the cost 567 pounds, and I've been walking past this shop for many days now looking at these donuts through the window, and I feel very conflicted. What does it mean? If I go in and eat that doughnut? Am I contributing to these inequalities and gaps? Am I complicit in gentrification? If I support this kind of food consumer experience? Or am I just a good urban citizen? Shopping locally in my own neighbourhood? In other words, with the moral dilemma of the donut, would you advise that I do or do not eat it?

Hannah Sender  29:26  
That's such a great question. I have I I have no idea

Thul Khan  29:32  
is made a dilemma. I would say what did he place the donor? If it replaced a you know Community Centre, then I mean, you could argue that that's something I don't like that is open to all I mean, depends on what what what always price is gonna be five pound for one donor. And I know

Hannah Sender  29:48  
they're gonna say this. I mean, Oh, God, we could go round around with this, but I think I can no, I know what you're trying to say like, how much are we participating in And contributing to the gentrification of our areas. And I mean, personally, you know, speaking myself as a white middle class women living in Tottenham, I'd say, I'm absolutely a part of gentrification. And you know, the shops that I choose to go to reflect that. I guess. Yeah.

Christoph Lindner  30:24  
I think that is what I was trying to get. That is the idea that we're all in different ways involved in and complicit with gentrification processes. And it's not just vulnerable populations being displaced, and more affluent populations coming in, and having a more comfortable urban existence. There's lots of space in between, and we connect in all different ways to the conditions, the spaces, the experiences, and the smells and tastes of gentrification. And perhaps in that, that gives us some power, some agency, if we're all involved in gentrification, that maybe there things that we can do to contribute towards reducing the gaps that we've identified, and creating this more inclusive future for London.

Hannah Sender  31:16  
I mean, there are there are definitely elements of personal choice here and personal culpability. But like I say, you know, this, it's a bit like the conversation about, you know, climate change, and whether you should buy oat milk or cow's milk. And, you know, should we all be vegans and so on. And I think that there is an element of personal choice, which is important, but we have to remember that the reason that we have government structures in place so that not every decision scope, like falls squarely on the shoulders of the individual, you know, that if you do decide to eat that doughnut, then somehow that value that you've created by buying that doughnut gets captured and it gets put back into the local community in a fair way.

Christoph Lindner  32:03  
This helps me a great deal. And in case people are wondering, I will be going out after this recording and buying that doughnut and eating it. But I will also be feeling slightly conflicted and guilty about it. I'm very jealous. So thank you both Hannah Sender and Thul Khan. It's been wonderful speaking with you, and thank you for all of your insights, and sharing your experiences. And if you're interested in reading more about the issues we've been discussing today, you can pick up a copy of my new book, aesthetics of gentrification, published by Amsterdam University Press, or download the completely free open access version from the publisher's website. You have been listening to Future Cities brought to you by UCL to hear more podcasts from UCL search for UCL Minds, wherever you download your podcasts. This podcast is an aunt Nell production. The producer and editor of this episode was Shivani Dave