Things Can Only Get Better-The Myth of Gentrification

This is the story of how gentrification of Stokes Croft in Bristol hasn’t made things better, and hasn’t rescued the working class established community of the area from the poverty that they were in, and that gentrification was supposed to save them from.

First, a wee bit of background…..

Stokes Croft is a street in Bristol, though the name is now used to define an area which stretches from the Bearpit, a name commonly used for the St. James Barton subway and you can quickly see why it picked up this nickname from looking at it.

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I first saw the place in an piece on the late lamented Snub TV back in the 80’s during an item about Crusties and how to recognise them! Oh those crazy days! The sort of person that inhabits the Bearpit now tends to be the Trustifarian hippy, along with of course many people with drink and drug problems.

This is better than Crusties begging, or drunks falling around the place isn’t it?

No, actually it’s not. The problem is that since the area began it’s gentrification around a decade ago, it’s gained additional problems in that the previously established community has been usurped so that what actually, attracted people to the Stokes Croft area (the multicultural mix, the Bristolian culture, the cheapness of the area) has been replaced with horrible monsters like Shambarber.  After all the world needs a fusion between house music and  cutting hair….

If all this sounds cynical, then you’re entirely right but the point is that the Afro-Caribbean community is being pushed out. The working class in the area are being pushed out to be replaced by the affluent, and semi-affluent Hipsters who make area’s like Shoreditch in London such a chore to pass though.

I’m not saying that bringing money into an area is bad. but when an area like Stokes Croft is gentrified, then something honest is lost as the cracks are pasted in, and the undesirables are shunted off elsewhere to be dealt with in poorer areas. Gentrification distorts property prices, (an example in Peckham here) so local people of all races, colours and creeds are forced out to be replaced by the sort of bland mass of Hipsters and students which means you might get a nice craft beer, or a home baked pizza with truffles on it, but schools, libraries, and places where the community meet and mix are replaced by endless amounts of pubs, cafes, and bars which then create a new set of problems.

This of course leaves the people who lived there the choice to somehow afford to live where in some cases, they may have lived there all their lives, or more commonly move somewhere cheaper, which means that the ‘development’ of an area is often more like social displacement as people who’ve invested in an area are replaced often by people who come from a wealthier background who are buying the ‘authentic’ nature of an area but not wanting to actually go through the horrible messiness of living in actual poverty, or near anyone who isn’t like them.

Now if this all sounds bitter, twisted and just a tad hypocritical you’d be probably quite right. I am of course one of those people who in the early 90’s and 2000’s was part of the gentrification in my own wee way and of course, places like Bristol have always been places where people come and go so there’s a constant flux of what an area is like.

There is of course a fine difference between coming to an area and integrating with the established community and helping price and drive that community out. Organisations like the PRSC don’t help either when they clearly encourage the sort of development that drives people out, while at the same time pretending to be ‘working for the community’ when really they work for a small number of people, many of whom don’t even live in the area. There’s also the farcical No to Tesco in Stokes Croft campaign which although they weren’t directly responsible for the riots in 2011 were highly influential in the depressing romanticisation of them in parts of the media. Considering that the area is supposed to have a stand against corporate culture, there was barely a murmur when the American chain Papa John’s recently opened an outlet recently even though their business practises are even worse than Tesco’s. I won’t even talk about the complete blank the PRSC and it’s supporters made when a new ‘massage parlor’ opened up in Stokes Croft, but I heard some insane defences of the place from people who were happily protesting a supermarket, alibet one which is swamping areas everywhere.

The point is that I’m trying to make in this long, rambling rant is that some change is good. Regeneration is good. Public art is good. New blood in an area is good. What isn’t good is social engineering and shifting out the poor so capitalist hippies can move in under the guises of ‘redevelopment’ to cleanse an area. It’s the tedious monotony of money and wealth winning over everything else.

We should question the motives behind gentrification and we should hold the people on all sides accountable while ensuring the established community isn’t left behind, or more commonly shunted off elsewhere so the newcomers don’t have to deal with them.

So there it is. I think the point I was making is we can all live together……

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6 thoughts on “Things Can Only Get Better-The Myth of Gentrification

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