Chrisp Street Market shows that London is finally fighting back against gentrification

Chrisp Street Market from above. Image: Loopzilla/Flickr/creative commons.

Gentrification started as a concept in a small sub-section of urban studies in the 1960s and 1970s. Now, it’s a major issue touching the lives of people in cities around the world.

It tends to be the residents of large, global hubs who are suffering the worst effects of gentrification, including displacement. But locals are quickly learning how to resist proposals they don’t agree to – and reclaim the city they call home.

In London, the tide of gentrification is moving rapidly eastwards. Canary Wharf has become the city’s – and indeed, the nation’s – financial engine, making billions for the traders that operate there. Shoreditch has moved beyond “edgy” and become pretentious. And the 2012 Olympic Games transformed Stratford into a playground for the wealthy, attracting institutions as diverse as Westfield, University College London and the V&A to the area.

This massive influx of wealth is radically changing the demographic of these areas – and campaigns such as Focus E15 and the Balfron Social Club have sprung up to defend the rights of East London natives. These campaigns, and many more across the capital, argue that local councils and housing associations have switched priorities, from providing housing for working-class communities, to allowing developers to “beautify” neighbourhoods and build more private homes to attract wealthier residents.

East End oasis

The Grade II–listed Chrisp Street Market Clock Tower, designed by Frederick Gibberd as part the 1951 Festival of Britain celebrations. Image: author’s own.

Chrisp Street Market, in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, is the latest outpost of the struggle against gentrification. As the UK’s oldest purpose-built market, it’s a site of historical significance and a major hub for the local community. The market has a cluster of traditional East End amenities such as community pubs, hardware stores, independent retailers and pie shops, and a multi-cultural demographic. It’s an oasis of authentic London culture, against a growing skyline of new build, luxury towers.

In July 2016, the site’s owners – housing association Poplar Harca – put forward plans to redevelop the market into high-end retail outlets, with added housing and leisure facilities. According to the plan, existing traders would be moved out while construction took place, but have a right to return with stepped increases in rent after 12 months “based on affordability” – an approach which Londoners have learned to regard with suspicion.

When I spoke to traders on the site as part of my current research, they said they had not been told what the new rate would be – even though some had leases up for renewal. Others were informed that they needed to find new ways of making money, so as to afford to stay.

The new plans didn’t replace the car park, a blow for those who come to the market to buy a week’s worth of goods. And the new development offered a meagre increase in the number of social housing units at the site – from 124 to 129. An unspecified amount of the 649 new builds would be “affordable”, which actually means 80 per cent of market rates.

A small number of traders supported the plans outright – mostly those who had moved into the market recently. Those who resisted were not pushing back against the idea of redevelopment – many agreed that the area was overdue some improvements. It was the widespread confusion, and the perceived lack of transparency from Poplar Harca, which seemed problematic – especially in light of other development projects, such as Robin Hood Gardens and the Balfron Tower, which had brought about large-scale displacement of existing residents.

In the shadow of Balfron Tower. Image: m-lodious/Flickr/creative commons.

At a planning consultation meeting in February 2018, these points were put to Poplar Harca – and many local residents felt they hadn’t received satisfactory answers. Local councillors voted to put the project “on hold”, while Poplar Harca revised its proposal. Neal Hunt, the director of development at Poplar Harca, was disappointed:

We are at a loss to understand the council’s Strategic Development Committee deferring its decision regarding the desperately needed homes, shops and jobs that this project would provide. Especially as it means the potential loss of grant funding for affordable homes. We have been working closely with local traders, residents, shoppers and the council for over eight years. Everything we’ve been told is reflected in the proposals: indeed, the council’s officers strongly recommended approval. Our discussions continue.

Taking a stand

It’s a small victory to the traders – and one that I don’t think would have been possible a few years ago. They won the day by coming together as a united body and soliciting the help of other groups and activists in East London. They mobilised early on in the planning process, to share information, legal advice and tactics for navigating confusing consultation exercises.

The market contains a mix of independent retail outlets and housing. Image: author’s own.

This kind of strategic engagement has also brought other large-scale development projects in the capital to a halt. Earlier this year, the Haringey Development Vehicle was stopped because of local collective action. And the redevelopment of the Elephant and Castle shopping centre was ”deferred“, not least because of the intense campaigning by local community groups, and the student occupation of the London College of Communication – a key stakeholder in the development proposals.

The ConversationTales of development in London – and other major cities – can have a happier ending. When it comes to Chrisp Street, the story has certainly changed. Strategic mobilisation and collective will have protected this pocket of social and cultural activity in the Poplar area. These efforts, and others like them, prove that East End, working-class culture is as much a part of London’s future as its past.

Oli Mould, Lecturer in Human Geography, Royal Holloway.

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



Why doesn’t London build an RER network, like Paris did?

A commuter walking by a map of the RER B line at the Chatelet-Les Halles station in Paris. Image: Getty.

I’ve heard many people make many different complaints about the Parisian transport system. That it does a bad job of linking a rich, white city with its poorer, more diverse suburbs. That, even as subway systems go, it’s a hostile environment for women. That the whole thing smells distractingly of urine.

I’m familiar with all of these complaints – I’ve often smelt the urine. And I’m aware that, in many ways, London’s is the superior transport network.

And yet I can’t help be jealous of Paris – In large part, because of the RER.

Central Paris. The Metro lines are thinner, and in pastel shades; the RER lines are thicker, and in brighter colours. Image: RATP.

Paris, you see, has not one but two underground railway systems. The more famous one is the original Paris Metro, opened in 1900: that’s the one with those fancy green portals with the word “metropolitain” written above them in a vaguely kooky font.

The Metro, though, mostly serves Paris Intra-muros: the official city, inside the Boulevard Périphérique ring road, site of the city’s last set of walls. As a result, it’s of very little use in most of the city’s suburbs. Its stations are very close together, which places a limit on how fast its trains can cross town. It was also, by the mid 20th century, becoming annoyingly overcrowded.

So starting in the 1960s, the city transport authorities began planning a second underground railway network. The Réseau Express Régional – Regional Express Network – would link suburban lines on either side of Paris, through new heavy rail tunnels beneath the city. Its stations would be much further apart than those of the metro – roughly one every 3km, rather than every 600m – so its trains can run faster.

And fifty years and five lines later, it means that 224 stations in the suburbs of Paris are served by trains which, rather than terminating on the edge of the city, now continue directly through tunnels to its centre.

The RER network today. Image: RATP.

London is, belatedly, doing something similar. The Elizabeth Line, due to open in stages from later this year, will offer express-tube style services linking the suburban lines which run west from Paddington to those which run east from Liverpool Street. And Thameslink has offered cross-town services for 30 years now (albeit not at tube-level frequencies). That, too, is going to add more routes to its network over the next few years, meaning direct trains from the southern suburbs to north London and vice versa.

Yet the vast majority of suburban National Rail services in London still terminate at big mainline stations, most of which are on the edge of the centre. For many journeys, especially from the south of the city, you still need to change to the London Underground.

So, could London ape Paris – and make Thameslink and Crossrail the first element of its own RER network?

In a limited way, of course, it’s doing just that. The next big project after Crossrail is likely to be (original name, this) Crossrail 2. If that gets funding, it’ll be a new south-west to north-east route, connecting some of the suburban lines into Waterloo to those in the Lea Valley.

The proposed route of Crossrail 2. Click to expand.

But it’s not immediately obvious where you could go next – what Crossails 3, 4 or 5 should cover.

That’s because there’s an imbalance in the distribution of the remaining mainline rail services in London. Anyone who’s even remotely familiar with the geography of the city will know that there are far more tube lines to its north. But the corollary of that is that there are far more mainlines to the south.

To usefully absorb some of those, Crossrail 3 would probably need to run south to south in some way. There is actually an obvious way of doing this: build a new tunnel from roughly Battersea to roughly Bermondsey, and take over the Richmond lines in the west and North Kent lines in the east, as a sort of London equivalent of RER C:

Our suggestion for Crossrail 3. Image: Google Maps/CityMetric.

But that still leaves a whole load of lines in south and south east London with nowhere to send them beyond their current terminal stations.

In fact, there are reasons for thinking that the whole RER concept doesn’t really fit the British capital. It was designed, remember, for a city in which the Metro only served the centre (roughly equivalent of London’s zones 1 & 2).

But London Underground wasn’t like that. From very early in its history, it served outer London too: it was not just a way of getting people around the centre, but for getting them there from their suburban homes too.

This is turn is at least in part a function of the economic geography of the two cities. Rich Parisians have generally wanted to live in the centre, pushing poorer people out to the banlieues. In London, though, the suburbs were where the good life was to be found.

To that end, the original operators of some lines weren’t just railway companies, but housing developers, too. The Metropolitan Railway effectively built large chunks of north west London (“Metroland”), partly to guarantee the market for its trains, but partly too because, well, housing is profitable.

In other parts of town, existing main line railways were simply added to the new underground lines. The Central line swallowed routes originally built by the Great Western Railway and London & North Eastern Railway. The District line absorbed part of the London, Tilbury & Southend Railway.

At any rate: the Tube was playing the same role as the RER as early as the 1930s. London could still benefit from some RER-type services, so hopefully the Elizbaeth Line won’t be the last. But it doesn’t need an entire second metro network in the way 1960s Paris did.

There is another idea we could more profitably steal from Paris. Those suburban railways which aren’t connected to the RER are still run by the national rail operator, SNCF. But it uses the Transilien brand name, to mark them out as a part of the Parisian transport network, and – as with the RER – each route has its own letter and its own colour.

The Transilien & RER networks in Paris. Image: Maximilian Dörrbecker/Wikimedia Commons.

This would not have the transformative effect on London that building another half a dozen Crossrails would. But it would make the network much easier to navigate, and would be almost infinitely cheaper. Perhaps we should be starting there.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites

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