The Archway story: how to gentrify your neighbourhood, in 5 easy steps

Before and after. Images: author's own (L); Essential Living.

When I told a native Londoner that I was moving to Archway two years ago, they repsonded with an unusual level of honesty. "Archway is the place you go to get everywhere else, right?"

He was, to an extent, correct. Archway, perched at the top of the Holloway Road in north London, is really just one giant junction; a square roundabout that sends you off in every direction to other, fancier places. The Over- and Underground stations, and a baker's dozen worth of bus stops, make it a Tesco megastore of transport links. Its other defining feature is a giant, 16 storey Gotham-esque tower, done up in black marble, casually referred to by the Islington Gazette as one of London's "least-loved buildings". 

But even in the time I've lived there, Archway has begun to fidget under its less-than-complimentary reputation. Slowly but surely, developers, plus local businesses and government, are conspiring to ensure that within five years, it will be effectively unrecognisable. Whether that is a good or a bad thing is a topic for another day. But for now, the ways an area seems to transform itself, all at once, are worth examining. After all, it could be your neck of the woods next. 

Step One: De-Gothamise that tower.

I’m not sure even the most dedicated of Brutalism affecionados could hold a candle for Archway Tower. In fact, I'm pretty certain they don't, because the recent disappearance of its black frontage seems to have gone largely unnoticed among the architectural community. 

The building, once used as government offices, was bought from owners by Essential Living in 2013, having lain vacant for two years. Under rules in place at the time, converting an office block into flats meant you could bypass affordable housing minimums. 

So Essential Living have gone about gutting the building, leaving only a concrete skeleton. Soon, they'll carry out their makeover; cladding it in a sort of peach-coloured metal, to make it look less, well, terrifying:

Step Two: Get rid of the traffic. 

Last year, TfL opened consultations on plans to transform the Archway gyratory. (That's apparently the offical term for square roundabout-type things.) Post-consultation, they've released more up-to-date plans. Here they are:

Click for a larger image. Image: TfL. 

It's a little complex, so here's the lowdown. The peach coloured area was once road, and formed a major artery from the traffic-clogged Holloway road towards Finchley and points north. Now, that direct route will be cut off, which should do something to alleviate the number of cars in the area. Instead, that area will become pedestrianised, bisected only by one of several new cycle tracks. It all looks rather nice:

Image: TfL.

Especially when you consider the fact that at the moment, that view looks like this: 

Step three: Create somewhere for the middle classes to live. 

Essential Living is planning to develop the tower into 184 flats, which will probably be a combination of studios, and one and two bedroom flats. None will, as far as I can tell, be socially rented. The plan is to have a concierge, and communal areas at the top of the tower. 

Scott Hammond, Essential Living’s managing director, says the flats are aimed at local young professionals:

We’re creating homes built from the ground up for rent, with professional management aimed at anyone seeking a better value renting experience. It will appeal to many people who already live in the area.

The building is designed to encourage community living with a range of amenities and social spaces. Our ambition is that your home begins and ends at the door of the building, not the door of the apartment.

The area is already populated by lots of young working professionals (like myself, in fact), looking for slightly cheaper rents. But, inevitably, the various measures around the tower will presumably push those rents up, so you'll see an influx of slightly-better-off professionals. It also doesn't seem that there'll be much room in the tower for families. 

Step four: Pubs out, cafes in.

Someone who was a resident in the 1990s told me that Archway was once known for its raucous Irish pubs, and occasional fights between ex-IRA members. I can't say that's still true, especially as the well-known Irish pub near the station, The Lion, recently shut down. The only clue as to why lay in a few bright purple pieces of paper lined up across boarded up windows, reading "TREATS CAFE SHOP". The chain, which sells sandwiches and snacks, will presumably be aimed at commuters heading to the station in the morning. 

Step five: Loyalty cards.

One problem with Archway's self-image lay in its residents' psychogeography. Its location amid other, slghtly better-off places means residents a little north of the junction might say they're from Highgate, or those to the west might think of themselves as living in Tufnell Park. Seemingly to tackle this, local businesses under the Archway Town Centre Group have come up with the "Archway Card", which offers you discounts at local independent businesses around the junction. 

The ATCG, meanwhile, has a clear remit:

[We're] working in partnership with Islington Council to create a thriving town centre at Archway which is clean, safe, accessible, with a diverse retail mix.


So there you have it. The results of this type of regeneration (or gentrification, depending on your point of view) can be hard to predict: unexpected sections of the community can benefit, especially if more jobs pop up in the area.

But one thing's for certain: house prices will start climbing up to match the surrounding areas. Ah, well. It was good while it lasted. 

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was corrected shortly after publication. It originally stated that Archway Tower was listed. It is not. Thanks to Douglas Murphy for pointing this out.


Segregated playgrounds are just the start: inequality is built into the fabric of our cities

Yet more luxury flats. Image: Getty.

Developers in London have come under scrutiny for segregating people who live in social or affordable housing from residents who pay market rates. Prominent cases have included children from social housing being blocked from using a playground in a new development, and “poor doors” providing separate entrances for social housing residents.

Of course, segregation has long been a reality in cities around the world. For example, gated communities have been documented in the US cities since the 1970s, while racially segregated urban areas existed in South Africa under apartheid. Research by myself and other academics has shown that urban spaces which divide and exclude society’s poorer or more vulnerable citizens are still expanding rapidly, even replacing public provision of facilities and services – such as parks and playgrounds – in cities around the world.

Gated developments in Gurgaon, India, have created a patchwork of privatised services; elite developments in Hanoi, Vietnam, offer rich residents cleaner air; and luxury condos in Toronto, Canada, displace local residents in favour of foreign investors. An extreme example is the Eko Atlantic project in Nigeria – a private city being built in Lagos, where the majority of other residents face extreme levels of deprivation and poverty.

A commodity, or a right?

Although these developments come with their own unique context and characteristics, they all have one thing in common: they effectively segregate city dwellers. By providing the sorts of facilities and services which would normally be run by public authorities, but reserving them exclusively for certain residents, such developments threaten the wider public’s access to green spaces, decent housing, playgrounds and even safe sewage systems.

Access to basic services, which was once considered to be the right of all citizens, is at risk of becoming a commodity. Privatisation may start with minor services such as the landscaping or upkeep of neighbourhoods: for example, the maintenance of some new-build estates in the UK are being left to developers in return for a service charge. This might seem insignificant, but it introduces an unregulated cost for the residents.

Privatising the provision of municipal services may be seen by some as a way for wealthier residents to enjoy a better standard of living – as in Hanoi. But in the worst cases, it puts in a paywall in front of fundamental services such as sewage disposal – as happened in Gurgaon. In other words, privatisation may start with insignificant services and expand to more fundamental ones, creating greater segregation and inequality in cities.

A divided city

My own research on branded housing projects in Turkey has highlighted the drastic consequences of the gradual expansion of exclusive services and facilities through segregated developments. These private housing developments – known for their extensive use of branding – have sprung up in Istanbul and other Turkish cities over the past two decades, since the government began to favour a more neoliberal approach.

By 2014, there were more than 800 branded housing projects in Istanbul alone. They vary in scale from a single high-rise building to developments aiming to accommodate more than 20,000 residents. Today, this development type can be seen in every city in Turkey, from small towns to the largest metropolitan areas.

The branded housing projects are segregated by design, often featuring a single tower or an enclosing cluster of buildings, as well as walls and fences. They provide an extensive array of services and facilities exclusively for their residents, including parks, playgrounds, sports pitches, health clinics and landscaping.

Making the same services and facilities available within each project effectively prevents interaction between residents and people living outside of their development. What’s more, these projects often exist in neighbourhoods which lack publicly accessible open spaces such as parks and playgrounds.

This is a city-wide problem in Istanbul since the amount of publicly accessible green spaces in Istanbul is as low as 2.2 per cent of the total urban area. In London, 33 per cent of the city’s area is made up of parks and gardens open to the public – which shows the severity of the problem in Istanbul.

These branded housing projects do not feature any affordable units or social housing, so there are no opportunities for less privileged city-dwellers to enjoy vital facilities such as green spaces. This has knock-on effects on excluded residents’ mental and physical health, contributing to greater inequality in these respects, too.

Emerging alternatives

To prevent increasing inequality, exclusion and segregation in cities, fundamental urban services must be maintained or improved and kept in public ownership and made accessible for every city-dweller. There are emerging alternatives that show ways to do this and challenge privatisation policies.

For example, in some cities, local governments have “remunicipalised” key services, bringing them back into public ownership. A report by Dutch think-tank the Transnational Institute identified 235 cases where water supplies were remunicipalised across 37 countries between 2000 and 2015. The water remunicipalisation tracker keeps track of successful examples of remunicipalisation cases around the world, as well as ongoing campaigns.

It is vitally important to keep urban services public and reverse subtle forms or privatisation by focusing on delivering a decent standard of living for all residents. Local authorities need to be committed to this goal – but they must also receive adequate funds from local taxes and central governments. Only then, will quality services be available to all people living in cities.

The Conversation

Bilge Serin, Research Associate, University of Glasgow.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.