The battle of the Cereal Killer Cafe: the rights and wrongs of gentrification

Shoreditch, the scene of the riot. Image: Getty.

There have been a growing number of anti-gentrification protests in and around London lately. They’ve also been getting louder, angrier, and in the case of the recent #fuckparade riots, more violent.

Hundreds of protesters targeted the Cereal Killer Cafe in the trendy east London neighbourhood of Shoreditch. The cafe had previously attracted media attention (good and bad) for selling bowls of cereal for £3 or more. Aiming to incite a “class war”, the protesters threw paint at the cafe, scrawled “scum” on its windows and intimidated those inside.

Twitter sprang into action, with people denouncing the protesters as “morons”, “middle-class” and “faux rebel idiots”. Others, perhaps more sympathetic to the cause, have maintained that picking on small-business owners when there are chain stores nearby was ill-judged.

Some commentators continued to lament the protesters' lack of action against bankers, property developers and the Mayor of London, for their role in the process of gentrification. The problem is, of course, that all of these responses fail to grasp the full complexity of the issue.


Whether we decide on a definition or not, the gentrification of London is happening because of a complex, layered suite of intersecting measures. People are being evicted from their homes because powerful real estate companies see land in terms of profit margins. The vital support networks that these evictees rely on for help are having to cut their services, at a time when demand is increasing.

Meanwhile, politicians are working around planning laws, rental costs have spiralled beyond the reach of the majority of Londoners and homelessness is at record levels. Worst of all, lives are being lost as disability, housing and welfare benefits are reduced in the name of austerity.

Call it “gentrification”, “gentrificleansing”, or “market-readjustment”: whatever it is, it’s immoral, and people’s lives are being torn apart because of it.

“Shoreditchification”

Rightly or wrongly, Shoreditch has become the poster-child of this process – “Shoreditchification” is the latest crass term to be bandied around. The area has a vibrant cultural, social and multi-racial history and has always been seen as an “edgy” place. With towering street art murals, grungy bars and clubs, and the boom of nearby Tech City, the area has become synonymous with bohemia.

Of course, these factors don’t automatically lead to a rampant influx of financial capital. But throw the global popularity of the “creative city” policy into the mix, and suddenly the area becomes the pinnacle of dynamic and flexible (but also precarious and culturally superficial) urbanism.

So Shoreditch has long been the media’s go-to place when discussing, parodying, satirising or critiquing contemporary urban processes. And earlier criticism for serving dishes that local residents wouldn’t be able to afford had a role in casting the Cereal Killer Cafe as the consumerised embodiment of London’s gentrification process.

It represents the perfect gentrifying storm – a potent cocktail of hipster culture, vacuous elite consumption, shameless self-promotion and neoliberal entrepreneurialism. Lashing out at the owners and customers of this establishment scratches an itch caused by the myriad other forces that fuel gentrification. But as many other commentators have noted, it doesn’t really cut to the heart of the problem.

I predict a riot

In our society, we’re told that consumption is the only way we can measure our self-worth. As a result, specific sites of material consumption become the beacons of how our society constructs itself. We are relentlessly told to consume conspicuously, so when we’re angry, we lash out at those who promote these practices.

Indeed, the post-mortem of the 2011 London riots (the intellectual ones, not the reactionary spin from “official” government mouthpieces) argued that the rioters were aping the “profit-at-all-costs” attitude of the bankers and entrepreneurs who triggered the financial crisis in the first place.

Fast-forward four years: the tangible outcome of the financial crisis has been a swelling of bankers’ coffers (via bailouts and privatisation deals) and the continued shrinking of security for those who already lived precarious lives.

When we consider these factors, it’s hardly surprising that the “class war” rhetoric is gaining more support. The Fuck Parade was part of the Class War organisation, and while the accusation that many of the protesters were in fact “middle class” may hold some truth, in some ways this observation seems irrelevant. Given crippling student debt, rental costs that even those on “average salaries” can’t afford and the hyper-gentrification of previously affordable urban areas, even middle-class people have a right to be angry at an urban capitalism that is pricing them (and their children) out of the city.


Faced with the acceleration of the gentrification process and despite the explosion of anti-gentrification campaigns, the protesters' feeling of helplessness is understandable, and the desire to respond angrily inevitable. But there’s more than one way of countering the political and economic powers responsible. You can strike out tactically, or even violently, in an effort to cause maximum damage and gain maximum exposure. But there are also those who work tirelessly within the “official” systems they are looking to oppose, and negotiate compromises and truces.

For a campaign to be successful, a workable medium between the two needs to be found. But this will not be an easy task, and it will be fraught with violent instances like the Fuck Parade.The Conversation

Oli Mould is a lecturer in human geography at Royal Holloway.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Here are my five favourite London council estates

The Dunboyne Road estate. Image: Steve Cadman/Wikimedia Commons.

The author is a Labour member of the London Assembly. In the name of impartiality, CityMetric would like to extend the invitation to write similar columns to representatives of other political parties.

From successful post-war efforts to move families out of slums and into modern homes, to today’s efforts to construct a new generation of social housing, there’s much to be celebrated in London’s precious council housing stock.

This year we celebrate the centenary of the Addison Act, which established a national building programme with government funding for the first time. So here – in no particular order – are my top five London estates:

1. Dunboyne Road

In 1965, the newly established London Borough of Camden was bold and radical when it came to public housing. Their architect’s department boasted 98 staff, led by Sydney Cook. The Grade II listed Dunboyne Road (pictured above) was Britain’s first high-density, low-rise estate. Designed in the late 1960s and completed in 1977, it was the first major work by architect Neave Brown.

Its concrete construction and geometric layout are eye-catchingly modernist, but the 71 flats and maisonettes fit neatly into their surroundings; a reimagining of the classic London street for the 1960s. Each has a private terrace and own entrance onto the central pedestrian walkway and communal gardens, with stepped levels and dual-aspect windows creating light throughout.

Neave Brown himself lived on the estate in the final years of his life remarking, “Who am I to say, but it’s beautiful”.

2. Lilington Gardens

Located just off Vauxhall Bridge Road, the fourteen blocks at Lilington Gardens were built between 1964 and 1972. Between three and eight storeys each, it was again a rejection of the tower blocks which dominated the era, showing that mid-rise housing could provide both beauty and density.

Image: Ewan Munro/Wikimedia Commons.

At a time when Westminster could be proud of the quality of its housing, John Darbourne and Geoffrey Darke won a competition to design the new estate. The result was something special, eschewing modernist forms for something more rugged and layered. The layout allows for secluded green spaces, while the red brick cladding echoes the neighbouring Victorian church of St James the Less. Like all good estates, it included a pub – the Grade II*-listed Pimlico Tram (now The Cask). It was included not as an afterthought, but an integral part of the estate’s design.

3. Ossulston Estate

By the early 1950s, the London County Council’s architect’s department was the biggest in the world, building housing on a huge scale in addition to showp iece projects such as the Southbank Centre.

Though their suburban estates – Downham in Bromley, and Becontree in Barking and Dagenham – were pioneering examples of low-rise of modernity in metroland, these efforts did not always suit the needs of poor city dwellers who weren’t able to move further out. The Ossulton Estate, however, built between 1927 and 1931 on the site of a Somerstown slum and located between Euston and St Pancras stations, did exactly that.

Image: Stephen McKay/Wikimedia Commons.

Chief architect George Topham Forrest’s work was inspired by visits to ‘Red’ Vienna and Ossulston bears distinct similarities to Karl Marx-Hof, which was constructed at the same time. While the roofs and windows have traditional elements, the overall aesthetic is a modernist classic. Like many estates in post-war years, it suffered from neglect and a lack of investment, but following a £6m improvement programme by Camden Council in 2004, the Ossulston is now back to its brilliant best.

4. Alton Estate

Roehampton’s Alton Estate, completed in 1959, was designed by a team led by Rosemary Stjernstedt – the first woman to serve as a senior public sector architect in Britain.

The two parts of the estate – East and West – are the crown jewels of British post-war council housing. Alton West was Le Corbusier in Albion: six ultra-modernist blocks modelled on the Unité d’habitation in Marseille, set among the landscape inherited from the Georgian Mount Clare house. Alton East was a softer, Scandinavian-inspired design of the “new Brutalists” in the LCC.

Image: Stevekeiretsu/Wikimedia Commons.

Rising above the trees to the north east of Richmond Park, the Alton Estate stands testament to the visionary idealism of post-war council housebuilding. On its completion, visitors flocked from across the globe, with American critic G.E. Kidder Smith calling it “probably the finest low-cost housing development in the world”.

Sadly, Alton West however is now at risk from ‘regeneration’ proposals which would see 288 existing homes lost. While council estates should not be fetishised, with investment, improvement and expansion encouraged, any change must be done sensitively and with residents’ backing. I hope that Wandsworth Council and Redrow will follow the mayor’s Good Practice for Estate Regeneration and hold a ballot before plans go ahead, and that if they do, they build on Rosemary Stjernstedt’s legacy.

5. King’s Crescent

When it comes to regeneration Hackney Council have taken an altogether different approach to Wandsworth.

Located on Green Lanes opposite the magnificent Clissold Park, King’s Crescent’s route to a successful and well-supported regeneration project hasn’t always been an easy one. The early 1970s estate was blighted by poor construction, navigability issues and an ill-fated partial demolition in 2000 which turned much of the landscape into hoardings and rubble. But thanks to a step-change in resident engagement and a transformation programme funded by Hackney Council, by 2023 it will be host to 765 new and refurbished homes.

Image: David Holt/Wikimedia Commons.

In the era of government-imposed cuts to local authority budgets, councils have to be pragmatic about funding choices and the new King’s Crescent does include homes for private sale. This is understandably a source of some consternation, but it’s also the source of funding which has made the regeneration possible. Hackney has ensured that more than 50 per cent of the new homes are genuinely affordable, with 97 brand new council homes for social rent.

The new developments have greatly enhanced the area, using both new build and renovation to stitch the estate better into its Victorian surroundings. Existing homes have been retrofitted with balconies, while disused garage space has been repurposed for modern flats. Hackney have clearly thought carefully about character and open spaces, as well as ceiling heights, windows and internal storage.

It is an exceptional project – one of a growing number of new schemes now being spearheaded by ambitious councils across the capital. In 2018-19, the Mayor of London funded the start of 1,916 new council homes – the highest figure since 1984-85.


…what about the Barbican?

On the fiftieth anniversary of its opening, it would be remiss not the mention the Barbican. It’s a brutalist masterpiece and a fantastic feat of post-war planning and design. The location and design are clearly outstanding, but it’s the bright and modern interiors which are truly to die for.

So why is it not on the list? Although it was built by the City of London Corporation, not one of the flats was ever available at a social rent. The properties were built to let at market rents to workers in the City, who later found themselves in the fortunate position of being able to snap them up under the Right to Buy – still the fate of far too many of London’s vital social homes.

Tom Copley is a Labour member of the London Assembly.