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Like many areas of London, Brixton has undergone plenty of changes through the years. During the 1920s it was one of South London’s prime shopping areas, a reputation it maintained for many years. In the 1950s it became dominated by West Indian culture as large-scale immigration transformed the area. Today, Brixton is undergoing yet more change, as the capital’s affluent young hipsters have started to move in.
The rather odious term, ‘gentrification’ is used to describe the process by which poor people are driven out of a metropolitan area by rich young professionals who want somewhere ‘cool’ to live. Some think gentrification can be regenerative to a previously run-down area but others feel that it’s tantamount to social cleansing. Whatever your perspective, there really is no getting away from the fact that house prices have sky-rocketed in the past 5-7 years making Brixton completely inaccessible to a large swathe of the local population.
Numerous savvy local residents have taken full advantage of this mass influx of fashion victims, by selling their properties at double the price they bought them. Nevertheless, it’s pretty clear that for those unable to secure employment with the type of company that employs an on-site sushi chef, living in Brixton is pretty challenging. This is starkly illustrated in data acquired from the 2001 and 2011 censuses which indicates huge alterations in the socio-economic standing of local residents.
One of Brixton’s main selling points from the 1950s to the early 2000s was the variety of cultures that resided there. But ‘diversity’, the buzzword that our liberal media like to throw about with abandon these days, seems to be slowly ebbing away in Brixton. According to the 2001 and 2011 censuses, there appears to be a rise in its ‘white British’ population which is completely at odds with other areas of our capital.
A major bone of contention with residents enduring the gentrification of their community is the perception that local businesses are suffering. Indeed, there are numerous examples of businesses closing due to high rental charges. In fact, commercial rents for small retail units in Brixton have actually tripled since 2006. And for super-trendy areas like Brixton Village (add the word ‘village’ and you change a location’s entire ethos… Apparently), there’s a huge waiting list for retailers looking to occupy a space. In areas like this, yearly rental charges are close to £50,000 a year.
To address the high rental prices, some think that the introduction of a cap will provide more businesses with access to the area, so that Brixton isn’t just the preserve of rich multi-national or super-hip retailers with money to burn. It has also been suggested that property developers should be forced to build more affordable homes for the working classes. A noble idea, granted. But the often murky agreements between property developers and local councils mean that the interests of local residents especially the poor, isn’t always a top priority. So it’s entirely possible that the gentrification of Brixton will continue unabated, despite the protestations of dispossessed locals.
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