Cities for Profit: Gentrification in Shoreditch

4 Mins read

Shoreditch is an area regarded as a centre for the creative arts and culture, curry houses, undiscovered artists, and a plethora of market stores selling everything from fabric to fresh fruits. 

It fosters an atmosphere and distinct history of a multicultural community, colourful ambience, and a sense of individuality, which has since become well-known for its upscale restaurants, independent shops and cafes, and a trendy vibe.

Shoreditch and the surrounding areas are now regarded as hip and free-spirited places to live in the city, which hasn’t always been the case. In fact, it was once derided for being a low-income, impoverished neighbourhood with a reputation for being extremely ghetto and hood-like. If you’re wondering why this is the case? The glamourisation of gentrification has reached its zenith and has virtually been considered an aesthetic for the lifestyles of the wealthiest people.

As a South Asian Bangladeshi, I have visited Shoreditch on numerous occasions during my childhood because it is a densely-inhabited Bengali district or ‘Bangla town’ where much of its heritage and traditions are still maintained.

Over the years, I have noticed my culture steadily disappearing, and there has been a magnitude of changes that have occurred in such a short period of time, which has been and continues to be largely eye-opening to what it has now become.

Buildings in Shoreditch
Shoreditch High Street [Unsplash: Samuel Regen-Asante]

Gentrification’s upward trajectory is highly revealing. The development has had a significant impact; profit has increased, the rich have more money than they need, and this location on the map is different than it was twenty years ago, and because Shoreditch is situated halfway between the city of London and Tower Hamlets, it represents a social and economic turning point for the area.

Hazera, who is 27 years-old, has been living in London for many years: “10 years ago I was a university student. Shoreditch was where my friends and I went for nights out for cheap weekends. You had everything, from bars to clubs, you name it. However, recently I went for dinner and some drinks with the same group, and we noticed, there’s not much of a choice, as many places have shut down or another business has taken over. Also, there are a lot more new buildings and more restaurants that you’d see in Soho now taking over, which is out of my price range and just essentially changing the vibes of what it used to be.”

Street Art Taken In Shoreditch
Street Art in Shoreditch [Unsplash: Toa Heftiba]

Hazera also acknowledges how it has affected her in a cultural aspect. She feels the east end origin is disappearing and the community, which holds such significance to history and heritage, are also leaving with no choice.

“Being a brown girl, Shoreditch and Brick Lane was always a place my friends and family would go for authentic Bengali food, thrift shops, and today they no longer exist or are not acknowledged anymore. The area was predominantly known to be a community for South-east Asians, who have now left due to the costs of living. All of it is now replaced by businesses catering to new residents’ needs,” Hazera told Artefact.

”It’s always about making money at the end of the day. For example, housing in Shoreditch targets wealthier wage earners willing to pay higher rents. Most people don’t realise there are limits, which can affect people by factors such as violence and mental health issues.’’

Alice, a twenty-seven-year-old who also lives in London, believes the dynamics have changed in Shoreditch, and she says she has been looking at it in a telescopic view where much of it resonates with historic detailing.

Ebor Street In Shoreditch
Ebor Street in Shoreditch [Unsplash: Sandro Cenni]

Alice had only started going to Shoreditch and Brick Lane around twelve to thirteen years ago, by which she believed gentrification had already begun. She states by 2012 there was a clear divide between Brick Lane North, where a cluster of vintage stores and coffee shops had cropped up and essentially Banglatown had started to decline for various reasons.

“Since then regeneration has escalated hugely; the overground station was introduced, Boxpark was built, an increasing amount of high-end brands established themselves in the area and the nighttime economy has flourished towards the north side of the Brick Lane and Shoreditch. All of this, coupled with the closure of Vibe Bar, ultimately funnelled customers away from the curry houses and into the likes of Dishoom/Smokey Goat. This will likely be exacerbated if plans to build office blocks and a shopping centre in the middle of Brick Lane come to fruition.”

The urban life in Shoreditch
View of the Urban Life in Shoreditch [Unsplash: Leonor Oom]

Alice says the Bengali community undoubtedly deserved more support from the council when it became clear that the concept of “Banglatown” was failing.  “Having 60 of the same restaurants on one street never made business sense, and while there was a distinct lack of innovation from the curry house owners, there were lots that the local authority could have done to remedy this.”

Alice says, it is also particularly galling that the areas in the Bengali community fought so hard for their right to exist on Brick Lane in the first place, battling racism and violence in the 1970s. “Contemporary regeneration of the area feels like a surreptitious version of the same thing. Shoreditch is being built for wealthy, young professionals to shop and party, meanwhile, the historically working-class Bengali community are becoming increasingly marginalised.”

She also believes that gentrification in Shoreditch is undoubtedly being used for profitable purposes. “Truman Brewery owns much of the land in the area and stands to gain a lot from erecting shiny new builds,” she said.

”From a personal perspective, the reality is that Shoreditch is being built for people like me (young professionals). However, the curry house owners I have interacted with have mixed opinions on development plans. Many think that proposed new builds in the area will ultimately benefit them and boost custom, something I personally think is unlikely,” Alice added.

In a region like Shoreditch, the local culture is fundamental as it provides a sense of identity for the community and residents. For decades, this cultural identity can contribute to common or different views, practices, norms and values. The formation of a community, local identity and unity is aided by culture.

In the end, it is important to give disadvantaged communities who have suffered so much, a say that can effectively assist in stopping gentrification from continuing displacing this neighbourhood. The gentrification in Shoreditch has already had severe impact on many residents, that’s already overlooked, taking action and supporting those in need of their livelihoods and their rights of the future generation.

Featured image by Rémi Boyer on Unsplash

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