In Dreamland: Can gentrification save Margate?

Dreamland. Image: Iheartcabbage/Wikipedia.

On the first floor of a repurposed cinema in Margate, 60-year-old Frank White inhales the warm smell of hot cross buns coming out of the vast oven below. “It happens every 10 minutes,” he says, somewhat wistfully.

White runs a stall called Grandad’s Workshop in Old Kent Market, where he sits whittling his own wooden pens, and even encourages customers to try their hand at making their own.

The market itself opened about a year ago. Finished in 1911, the building was once the site of a cinema, a bingo hall, and a snooker club, before being transformed more than into the present-day kitschy hub of foodstalls and independent craftsmen and women. Caterers stay on the lower floor, leaving tradesmen and women on the higher level to observe the scenes below.

White attributes changes in the area to the opening of the Turner Contemporary in 2011. But he was initially sceptical about whether it would have a positive impact, and when his stall first arrived at the market, whether it would see any success.

“Over the winter months it was obviously very cold and windy, you occasionally have those days when a man, his wife and a dog come in... It was very quiet, sometimes a bit disheartening,” White says. “In the summer it’s the opposite... I’ve heard so many people say what a wonderful place it is.” He believes that the changes to the area are attracting people who previously did not frequent the town.

“I hate to use the word ‘class’, but I think we are getting a different type of person coming into the area... It’s been a gradual thing, probably since the Turner centre opened,” he says, noting that these people might have a more “artistic” temperament and disposable income.


“We thought, this is going to be a complete white elephant and what a waste of our council tax. But, I have to put my hands up and say I’ll admit, I was wrong.”

“The more new businesses that open in the old town, the better it is for everybody,” agrees Michelle Norman from Mica' Coastal Crafts, also based at the market.“It has a knock on effect.”

Last year, both London’s Evening Standard and the Daily Mail ran stories proclaiming that London’s “hipsters” were heading to the Kentish seaside town in droves. On top of that, this summer, the renowned Dreamland amusement park threw open its doors again after a £25m revamp; it held a party on 26 May. “I think that’s going to bring a whole ton of people into the town again,” said Dom Bridges of Haeckels, which creates cosmetics made with ingredients such as seaweed harvested from the Kent coast.

Bridges and his partner moved to the Cliftonville area, east of the town centre, from London about three and a half years ago. “There’s been a whole bunch of businesses opening up there,” he says. “We’ve had Cliffs open, which is a sort of multipurpose space. Coffee, food, yoga, a record store. It does everything,” he says, adding that a further record store, Transmission, is run by someone formerly from Rough Trade.

Estate Agent Alan Munns, director of My4Walls and owner of the Thanet Property Blog, said that the High Speed 1 (HS1) railways has also contributed (section one opened in 2003, and section two in 2007), as well as London prices and the media interest itself. “The Turner is certainly part of a sequence of events and investments, I think it has put Margate on the map,” he says. “But the improved High Speed Rail link into London too.”

He mentions the different approach taken by people coming from outside, and how they arrive free from the local understandings of the townspeople. “We get clients from all over London,” Munns said.

The coastline is still scattered with English seaside amusement arcades and stray advertisements to watch Steve McFadden speak (sorry, you missed that – it was on 6 May). And the concerted effort to change the social fabric of the area, typified by the Turner, doesn’t come without its downsides.

Property prices have risen enormously in the past few years. According to rightmove, sale prices in Margate in the past year were 13 percent up on the previous year, and 25 percent up from 2007.

Because of this, people who are renting properties, rather than buying, are suffering problems. “The downside is that landlords are selling property and tenants are having to find new accommodation,” says Munns. “I wouldn’t call it a crisis but certainly there’s a shortage.”

In its 1950s and 1960s heyday, Cliftonville was a thriving shopping area. But in the last 10 years, it’s been an area of high unemployment and antisocial behaviour, says Munns. “The people from London all want to buy in Cliftonville,” he notes. “Local people won’t buy in Cliftonville.”

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America's cities can't police their way out of this crisis

Police deployed tear gas during anti-racism demonstrations in Los Angeles over the weekend. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

As protesters took to the streets across the United States over the weekend to express their anger at police killings of unarmed black Americans, it was hard to miss the hypocrisy coming from local authorities – including the otherwise progressive, left-leaning officials who are in power in most major American cities. 

Many US mayors and their police chiefs had issued public statements over the past week that seemed – only briefly, as it turned out – to signal a meaningful shift in the extent to which the Black Lives Matters movement is being taken seriously by those who are in a position to enact reforms. 

The sheer depravity of the most recent high-profile killing had left little room for equivocation. George Floyd, 46, died last Monday under the knee of white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, while three additional officers helped to hold Floyd down, doing nothing to aid him as he begged for them to stop and eventually lost consciousness. The officers had been attempting to arrest Floyd on suspicion of having used a counterfeit $20 bill at a deli. All four have since been fired, and Chauvin was arrested Friday on charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. 

“The lack of compassion, use of excessive force, or going beyond the scope of the law, doesn’t just tarnish our badge—it tears at the very fabric of race relations in this country,” Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore told the Washington Post in response to the Floyd case. Meanwhile Moore’s boss, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, on Friday claimed that he understood why his city, which is no stranger to police brutality, was protesting. “We absolutely need as a nation, certainly as a city, to voice our outrage, it’s our patriotic duty to not only stand up for George Floyd but for everybody who has been killed unnecessarily, who’s been murdered for the structural racism that we have in our country,” Garcetti said. 

Normally, US police chiefs and mayors tend to ask citizens to withhold judgment on these types of cases until full investigations can be completed. But a 10-minute video recording of Floyd’s killing had made what happened plain. Police chiefs across the country – and even the nation’s largest police union, which is notorious for defending officer abuses – similarly condemned the actions of the Minneapolis officers, in a rare show of moral clarity that, combined with the arrest of Chauvin, offered at least a glimmer of hope that this time things might be different. 

As the events of the weekend have since shown, that glimmer was all too fleeting. 

In city after city over the past three days, US mayors and their police chiefs made a series of the same decisions – starting with the deployment of large, heavily armed riot units – that ultimately escalated violent confrontations between officers and protesters. Images widely shared on social media Saturday and Sunday nights made it clear that members of law enforcement were often initiating the worst of the violence, and appeared to treat protesters as enemy combatants, rather than citizens they were sworn to protect. 


In New York City, two police SUVs were seen plowing into a crowd of protesters, while elsewhere an officer was recorded pulling down a young protester’s coronavirus mask in order to pepper spray his face

In Louisville, the city where Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman was fatally shot by police on 13 March, state police in riot gear were captured confiscating and destroying protesters’ supplies

In Minneapolis, forces opened fire with nonlethal rounds on residential streets, much to the shock of homeowners standing on their own front porches. 

Images of police pushing or shoving peaceful protesters were almost too numerous to count, including, in Salt Lake City, an elderly man with a cane

In many places, police also targeted journalists who were covering the protests, firing at clearly identifiable media crews with rubber bullets, injuring and even arresting reporters

Some protesters did commit acts of vandalism and looting, and the leaders of cities where that happened generally responded in the same ways. 

First, they blamed “outside agitators” for the worst protester behaviour, a claim that harkens all the way back to the civil rights era and for which the evidence is murky at best

Next, they enacted sudden curfews with little to no warning, which gave law enforcement an excuse to make mass arrests, in some cases violently. 

In a pair of widely criticized moves, Garcetti of Los Angeles closed the city’s Covid-19 testing centers and suspended the entire mass transit system Saturday evening, stranding essential workers on their way home from daytime shifts. Late Sunday night in Chicago, the city’s public school system halted its free meal distribution service for low-income children, citing “the evolving nature of activity across the city”.  

Governors in at least 12 US states, in coordination with city leaders, have since called in National Guard troops to “help”. 

At this point it’s clear that the leaders of America’s cities are in desperate need of a radically different playbook to respond to these protests. A heavily armed, militarised response to long-simmering anger toward the heavily armed, militarised approach to American policing is more than ironic – it’s ineffective. Granting police officers wider latitude to make arrests via curfews also seems destined to increase the chances of precisely the tragic, racially biased outcomes to which the protesters are reacting. 

There are other options. In places such as Flint, Michigan, and Camden, New Jersey – both poor cities home to large black populations – local law enforcement officials chose to put down their weapons and march alongside protesters, rather than face off against them. In the case of Camden, that the city was able to avoid violent clashes is in no small part related to the fact that it took the drastic step of disbanding its former police department altogether several years ago, replacing it with an entirely new structure. 

America’s cities are in crisis, in more ways than one. It’s not a coincidence that the country has tipped into chaos following months of emotionally draining stay-at-home orders and job losses that now top 40 million. Low-income Americans of colour have borne a disproportionate share of the pandemic’s ravages, and public health officials are already worried about the potential for protests to become Covid-19 super-spreading events.

All of this has of course been spurred on by the US president, who in addition to calling Sunday for mayors and governors to “get tough” on protesters, has made emboldening white nationalists his signature. Notably, Trump didn’t call on officials to get tough on the heavily armed white protesters who stormed the Michigan Capitol building over coronavirus stay-at-home orders just a few weeks ago. 

US mayors and their police chiefs have publicly claimed that they do understand – agree with, even – the anger currently spilling out onto their streets. But as long as they continue to respond to that anger by deploying large numbers of armed and armored law enforcement personnel who do not actually live in the cities they serve, who appear to be more outraged by property damage and verbal insults than by the killings of black Americans at the hands of their peers, and who are enmeshed in a dangerously violent and racist policing culture that perceives itself to be the real victim, it is hard to see how this crisis will improve anytime soon. 

Sommer Mathis is the editor of CityMetric.