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.

 
 
 
 

As EU funding is lost, “levelling up” needs investment, not just rhetoric

Oh, well. Image: Getty.

Regional inequality was the foundation of Boris Johnson’s election victory and has since become one of the main focuses of his government. However, the enthusiasm of ministers championing the “levelling up” agenda rings hollow when compared with their inertia in preparing a UK replacement for European structural funding. 

Local government, already bearing the brunt of severe funding cuts, relies on European funding to support projects that boost growth in struggling local economies and help people build skills and find secure work. Now that the UK has withdrawn its EU membership, councils’ concerns over how EU funds will be replaced from 2021 are becoming more pronounced.

Johnson’s government has committed to create a domestic structural funding programme, the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF), to replace the European Structural and Investment Fund (ESIF). However, other than pledging that UKSPF will “reduce inequalities between communities”, it has offered few details on how funds will be allocated. A public consultation on UKSPF promised by May’s government in 2018 has yet to materialise.

The government’s continued silence on UKSPF is generating a growing sense of unease among councils, especially after the failure of successive governments to prioritise investment in regional development. Indeed, inequalities within the UK have been allowed to grow so much that the UK’s poorest region by EU standards (West Wales & the Valleys) has a GDP of 68 per cent of the average EU GDP, while the UK’s richest region (Inner London) has a GDP of 614 per cent of the EU average – an intra-national disparity that is unique in Europe. If the UK had remained a member of the EU, its number of ‘less developed’ regions in need of most structural funding support would have increased from two to five in 2021-27: South Yorkshire, Tees Valley & Durham and Lincolnshire joining Cornwall & Isles of Scilly and West Wales & the Valley. Ministers have not given guarantees that any region, whether ‘less developed’ or otherwise, will obtain the same amount of funding under UKSPF to which they would have been entitled under ESIF.


The government is reportedly contemplating changing the Treasury’s fiscal rules so public spending favours programmes that reduce regional inequalities as well as provide value for money, but this alone will not rebalance the economy. A shared prosperity fund like UKSPF has the potential to be the master key that unlocks inclusive growth throughout the country, particularly if it involves less bureaucracy than ESIF and aligns funding more effectively with the priorities of local people. 

In NLGN’s Community Commissioning report, we recommended that this funding should be devolved to communities directly to decide local priorities for the investment. By enabling community ownership of design and administration, the UK government would create an innovative domestic structural funding scheme that promotes inclusion in its process as well as its outcomes.

NLGN’s latest report, Cultivating Local Inclusive Growth: In Practice, highlights the range of policy levers and resources that councils can use to promote inclusive growth in their area. It demonstrates that, through collaboration with communities and cross-sector partners, councils are already doing sterling work to enhance economic and social inclusion. Their efforts could be further enhanced with a fund that learns lessons from ESIF’s successes and flaws: a UKSPF that is easier to access, designed and delivered by local communities, properly funded, and specifically targeted at promoting social and economic inclusion in regions that need it most. “Getting Brexit done” was meant to free up the government’s time to focus once more on pressing domestic priorities. “Getting inclusive growth done” should be at the top of any new to-do list.

Charlotte Morgan is senior researcher at the New Local Government Network.