If you have ever been on holiday for longer than two weeks, returned home and felt like everything looked and felt different, then you will understand how it feels to live in an area that is being transformed, one memorable location at a time.
For many years now the gentrification of Brixton has been a controversial topic. Brixton is one of the many areas in London that are being redeveloped, which is often called ‘urban renewal.’
Many residents are debating the loss of culture and value within these famous neighbourhoods, and the prioritisation of the wealthy, whilst others are arguing the need for improvement within these areas.
However, Brixton is not the only location in London that is being taken over. In fact, gentrifying an ‘underdeveloped’ area is not uncommon.
Anybody living near or in the Walthamstow area will understand the extent of the transformation this borough has undergone, as it is the newest target for redevelopment.
Just like those living in Brixton, many of those who have lived in Walthamstow all of their lives are shocked at the magnitude of the transformation in the Waltham Forest borough.
With our new coffee shops, fancy restaurants and cocktail bars, the Waltham Forest we once knew is slowly evolving into something far more extravagant and not quite ‘Walthamstow’ like.
Those who have studied abroad or outside of London have come back to their homes in Walthamstow, not quite recognising many of the places they grew up. Their local pubs and cafes have been transformed or completely refurbished, with noticeably higher prices.
After living in Walthamstow for over 10 years, the changes have especially become more noticeable more recently. The famous cinema we were promised for more than 15 years has in fact opened. Although it felt like a lifetime of “it will happen next year, we promise”.
The transformation is not fully complete, however, with your typical chicken and chips shops acting as middlemen to all these new ‘fancy’ locations, leaving this area in a ‘halfway there’ state.
Although many of the historical landmarks and locations that attract people to this East London hotspot will still remain, the transformation is still undeniable.
The on-going redevelopment does not end with the new restaurants and bars, this is only scratching at the surface of Walthamstow.
The regeneration of housing in Walthamstow has been on-going for the past two years. It was first brought to my attention when it was announced that the council estates in the Marlowe road area will be knocked down, but wait, don’t worry, they will be rebuilt and transformed.
Waltham Forest council has expressed their goals for social and economic growth. In partnership with Countryside, a UK home builder specialising in regeneration, the council will transform the Waltham Forest area into a pedestrian-friendly location with new and improved spaces for commercial use around a public plaza.
The Countryside website states that, “the masterplan designed by Stitch Architects puts a focus on attractive, tree-lined streets with landscaped open spaces and pedestrian friendly connections, all helping create a safe and attractive environment that links well with its surrounding area.”
What seemed like an exciting prospect, soon turned into a stressful miscommunication between residents and council members.
Residents were promised ‘priority bidding’ for new housing should they decide to move out and find new homes. However, those choosing to remain and patiently wait for their ‘brand new’ flats, will be checking their mail everyday for news and updates of their future homes.
The regeneration was even called off, and called back on only in a matter of months, leaving residents confused and frustrated.
Despite the rocky start, the re-generation continues and council estates in the Wood street area are already half-way built, while others are being knocked down and prepared. The only remaining housing left is the famous Northwood tower on Wood street.However, the pricing of the housing in the Marlowe Road/Wood Street area has significantly increased, as more than half of the flats and apartments being re-built will be sold as ‘private housing.’
Residents currently living within these estates will have a discounted price for their flats because of the inconvenience of being moved out of their current homes. Some will even receive a compensation sum, if they qualify. The privatisation of homes within this area may leave little room for the underprivileged members of the community, as the discounted homes may not benefit them entirely.
Despite this, many of those living in this area for the majority of their lives have in fact been re-homed and a significant amount of them have found permanent housing.
Although many of these residents have been re-homed and are happy with their new living spaces, other members in this community have expressed great concerns with the future of their living situations. Some residents even stating that they feel ‘neglected’ and have given up on this process.
There are many pros and cons of gentrifying an area, which is why the re-generation has been a controversial topic for many years. Although some residents believe it will benefit Walthamstow in the future, the current impact this has will leave many in difficult situations when looking for new homes.
The WalthamForest.Gov website states that residents currently living within the Marlowe road estates will be looked after and prioritised during this process,
“All council tenants affected by the regeneration have been given right to return. They will be given ‘decant status’ meaning they’ll get priority bidding if they want to move out of the estate. Leaseholders can now negotiate with the council to sell their properties back at the current market value. Also, generous compensation packages are available to those who qualify.”
Despite the aim to prioritise and cater to the current residents, many have expressed their concerns as the process has not been entirely positive and helpful for them.
Keta Nazmiu, 27-year-old recruitment consultant, has lived in the Marlowe Road estate for over 15 years with five other family members.
Having lived in the community for the majority of her adult life, Nazmiu has expressed a great concern for the way in which her and her family members have been treated during this process of redevelopment.
She told Artefact that the state of anti-social behaviour around the Marlowe Road blocks has resulted in many people being on board with the plans to re-generate, as they believe this will create a more safe and accepting environment for the residents.
Initially, the re-generation was a shock to most members of the community. Despite this shock, they were warming up to the idea as many believed this would be a smooth and fair process. The miscommunication that has taken place during this time has resulted in many residents feeling disheartened and neglected.
“The estate was in very bad condition from continuous ASBO [anti-social] behaviour, noise levels, theft and dirty communal spaces, making life in Marlowe Road a difficult and stressful time. However, despite all the hardship me and my family have built some of our best and worst memories in this estate as we have spent a great time of our lives here,” Nazmiu told us.
She and her family believed that they would be treated fairly during this process because of the amount of time spent within this community, and despite the difficulties they have faced living in Marlowe Road, they still consider this their family home.
“As a council resident I am pleased to see the council give back to our community and help redevelop the estate, and I am excited that we have been given the opportunity to have a brand new home.”
Many of the residents feel the same way. There is no doubt that this community is in need of ‘help’ and the redevelopment will tackle many issues that residents have expressed in the past, however, the process is what has caused a setback for many of the members within this community, with some feeling pressured to opt for council association homes rather than the council flats they wish to keep due to availability and pricing.“I don’t believe that we have been dealt with fair consideration from the council or their advisors considering how long we have been living at the estate,” Nazmiu said. “Me and my family have been living in Marlowe Road for over a decade and have been bidding for a new home for over three years, and we are yet to be rehoused. Our neighbours who have been here for less than two years have been rehoused into three or two bedroom council properties,” she continued.
“The council have informed us that these properties are rare to come by whenever we enquire about our rehousing status as the estate is due to be demolished in August 2018. We have explicitly informed the council and the rehousing advisors based in the Marlowe Road project office that we only want to be rehoused in a council flat, but we have been told that we should take a Housing Association property, leaving us with little or no choice.”
The properties within this area are still in the regeneration process, and many other locations within the Walthamstow area are still undergoing constant change.
Although many members of the community have had negative encounters during this regeneration process, a clear majority believe that the new developments to the restaurants, community areas and even the homes will invite a more welcoming and safe location for the people of Walthamstow, whilst allowing the community to thrive economically.
The plaza near the Walthamstow mall was once an empty space that only drew attraction from its street market that famously stretches for more than a kilometre, making it the longest out-door market in Europe.
However, in recent years it is not only the famous market that attracts people to this space. The new Empire cinema, Nandos, Pizza Express, Turtle Bay, Creams, and many more locations have attracted a whole new crowd within the Walthamstow community.
Kathryn Roth, a 21-year-old actress has lived in Walthamstow all of her life. She believes there is a very positive future for commercial buildings in Waltham Forest, however, she says more residents need to be taken into consideration when regeneration plans are put forward.
“I think regeneration for commercial buildings is a positive thing, in terms of new shops in the village and town centre for example. Our youths tastes and interests are developing and growing, so these can be positive changes,” she told Artefact.
However, Roth almost feels like the regeneration has been taken too far in regards to housing, especially considering the residents who have lived in these homes do not appear to have much say in the decision making process.“The council needs to take on board the residents’ opinion more. I feel like they are trying to change a lot of things, like putting a massive block of flats in the middle of Selborne Walk, which will not look good as we also value and need that green space. We should seek out residents approval in terms of housing.”
Many members of the community have expressed that the new commercial spaces have brought a completely different feeling in Walthamstow.
The new and improved spaces are positive for the future of the economy, but there is still the underlying question of whether all of the members within this community will feel welcome and will be able to keep up with these new developments.
Many areas that are being gentrified within London pose the same questions. These underdeveloped areas are being transformed into fancier and unrecognisable locations.
However, within these communities there are underprivileged members who may feel alienated and forced out of their own home town because of their financial statuses. The changes may be positive for Walthamstow in the future, however, many will feel left out and excluded.
Walthamstow has seen many changes in the past years. We can only anticipate the future of this community. It forces us to question whether fancy new locations and ‘prettier’ homes will really solve the underlying issues within this community, or will this just do a better job at covering it up?
New regeneration plans are being proposed and adapted each day in attempt to ‘fix’ an ‘underdeveloped’ area, perhaps this will only stop when every street corner resembles the last.
Featured Image by Edena Klimenti