Gentrification progressing in “Hackney Central”
Hackney Central is a station on the North London line, a railway line of the London Overground. Though it is not popular among tourists, the area is filled with real London life. Gentrification has been progressing, reflecting the booming economy of the unprecedented land price bubble. During my trip, I took a look at the old cityscape of the conservation area.
Hackney Central is a station on the North London line, a railway line of the London Overground. The area is not popular with tourists, but there are popular brand stores, such as the Burberry outlet, which may be appealing to Japanese tourists. The area that I am covering for this article is on the opposite side: Wilton Way, stretching west from Hackney Central Station.
Prior to visiting London, I spoke with Duncan Shotten who was born in London, to learn that his mother was born in Hackney. She also strongly resisted living there, due to a negative image that she has towards the town. Although the town is now clean, people of her generation have different opinions about it. Locations which suffered air raid attacks during World War II eventually degraded in health, due to slums, barracks and illegal business.
Currently, intelligent buildings fill the central areas and transportation networks are undergoing redevelopment, as gentrification progresses in London, illustrating the economic bubble. “Gentrification” is defined as below, according to Wikipedia:
Gentrification is a process of renovation and revival of deteriorated urban neighborhoods by means of influx of more affluent residents, which results in increased property values and the displacing of lower-income families and small businesses.
Gentrification is typically the result of increased investments in a community and the related infrastructure by the government, or community activists and resulting economic development, increased attraction of business and lower crime rates.
In a community undergoing gentrification, the average income increases. Poorer pre-gentrification residents who are unable to pay increased rents or property taxes may find it necessary to relocate.
A view of Amhurst Road. The end of this road is the intersection shown in the very first photo. The sidewalk has also been renewed and new buildings have been built, like the one pictured on the right. Because it is in the midst of transition, there is a mixture of old residents and newcomers. It was around 11 o’clock when I took this photo, so everyone besides the elderly people strolling around were away at work.
Wilton Way is where “MOMOSAN SHOP”, which we introduced in a recent interview article, is located. The city which once looked like a slum area now has German cars parked on it, and stores with sophisticated taste have also been increasing.
“The Wiltonway Cafe” is one of the two cafes on this street.
The Wiltonway Café was designed using the exterior of the prior store. By making use of the old, authentic appearance, they not only saved costs, but also are able to pass on old memories of the city. This would not be possible in Japan, since billboard architecture is used for commercial building.
The interior is rough, free, and charming, making use of boarded bench seats instead of chairs. None of the seats face each other, since they are arranged along the wall, facing the guests towards the counter as they enjoy their coffee. Though this is partly due to the small store size, its main purpose is to provide the most user-friendly, balanced layout.
Strangely, there is more staff than the number of seats in the store (four staff members this day!) Each member has a unique character, and their friendly chatting was very welcoming, although it was too fast and strongly accented for me to understand (lol).
This café is owned by “London Fields Radio”, so it is also used as a studio.
Barber shop, Toppers of Hackney. The design of this shop appears ordinary at first, until you take a close look at some of its amazing features!
The framed pictures (or etching?) in the store are actually medical sketches of dissected organs and bones. Personally, it is a very interesting subject, but not everyone might have the same opinion (lol).
Pictured here is a small supermarket that sells groceries and fresh products such as vegetables. The meat and fish are all frozen.
The other café is “Footnote”. Despite the subtle location and bad time frame of my visit, the café was crowded with customers. Of course, most were working on their macbooks, a sight you see anywhere in the world (lol).
And this is MOMOSANSHOP, which I introduced in another article.
Graham Road, one street north of Wilton Way, is lively with buses running on it. However, it does not have many stores and is more like a commuter town. In order to preserve the old cityscape, the area has been specified as a conservation area, prohibiting installation of store signs, parabolic antennas, and outdoor units of air conditioners. According to the owner of MOMOSAN SHOP, her store feels like a sauna during the summer, since it has large windows and there is no air conditioning.
There is also a terribly strict law that prohibits owners from modifying the interior of a building specified as a listed building (lol).
After looking at the progressing gentrification, I came to think that there are positive aspects to this change, as the city of London is in a better economic situation, and the income of the middle class is increasing. In an inactive, stagnating city with bad economy, new movements are not born. It also seems to be a positive result that these old buildings are now able to undergo maintenance, freeing them from graffiti, and contributing to regain a beautiful city. I feel it is fair to say that the booming economy is affecting the idea of conservation in a positive and productive way.
When it comes to cityscape, cities in Japan are not very conscious. Unless it is a historic site or temple, historic architecture is often demolished for economic efficiency. It is unfortunate that the values of individuals are easily ignored to meet corporate economic supremacy. The reason may be enforcement of earthquake resistance, assurance of safety, or adjustment of economic efficiency to meet property value. Yet these are all important, it is still unfortunate to watch familiar views of the city being destroyed. Thanks to free housing, some cities in Japan look very interesting, while some are very bland, with uniform houses standing side by side. It cannot be denied that economy greatly affects scenery.
On the other hand, I do have some mixed feelings about the edginess of London fading from the city. Although graffiti is not the only form of art, I would miss it if it disappears completely. However, I also feel that this kind of art is not meant to be expressed on the surface, and is more like an indicator of subculture, meaning that the edginess is likely to reappear elsewhere. When the stability of livelihood restrains the impulse of disruptive and violent expression, the style of art may transition into a more elegant style.
Text: Koichiro Sato
Picture: Koichiro Sato
Translation: Yukie Haneda
London Fields Radio
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