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Has gentrification gone too far?

26th June 2018 Print

The decades-long plight of making our UK cities much more ‘liveable’ places – landscaped parks, perfectly pedestrianised areas, beautifully restored Victorian and Edwardian buildings, trendy urban bars and cafes – provide a stark contrast to the cities of pre-gentrificated Britain.

Ask anyone who grew up in a pre-gentrified UK city back in the 1970s or 1980s if they’d mind paying £4 for a trendy cup of coffee in a modern UK city cafe and they would have laughed at you. The gulf between Then and Now, as seen in SunLife's recently released past-and-present tool, is vast.

The reality of modern-day cities in the UK post-gentrification is a much more sombre picture; cities somewhat devoid of personality, almost carbon copies of each other and home to a mix of corporate headquarters, struggling department stores with permanent sales, small independent stores, and the occasional library which sees more visits from homeless beggars to its doors than patrons reading books.

Herein lies the issue: gentrification has caused an identity crisis for our UK cities. No longer run by the people for the people, low-paid workers and aspirational youngsters – those who promised a future for our cities based on hard graft and creative spark, can at best visit the city for a day out to meet with the like-minded in a coffee shop or for a special-occasion meal. City centres have become an eclectic hub of disparity in society – and ‘in and out’ culture which best serves those with good disposable income.

Lack of community

And it is the lack of community that highlights the possibility that gentrification has had a bigger impact in society than we may have noticed. Step into a UK city in 2018 and you’ll notice one thing: everyone’s there to visit. Be it for the day, the weekend. A city visit is just that: a visit. A transaction. A tourism destination. A place to come and go. A place to work. A place to pass through.

Going back to even the 1980s and 1990s, cities were places where the community came together. People knew each other through a trip to the market, the butcher or the greengrocer. Community spirit, along with healthy independent trade, flowed freely – and then ebbed, displaced by big-brand, big-budget newcomers.

Elite ownership

It could definitely be argued that gentrification has gone too far. The fact can’t be shirked: ownership of property and land is now in the hands of the elite. And that has far-reaching consequences for creative- and knowledge-based economies as much as struggling retail chains.