Restaurants ran by ex-offenders, derelict warehouses converted into cultural houses and makeshift gardens on unused carparks are just some of the community initiatives tackling the rapid development of the city. As the glass tower blocks continue to grow and the suits multiply these initiates attempt to create space between, above and all around the concrete for those left behind. But as we patch up these gaps with community initiatives are we in fact only adding coal to the fire?
Driving up demand
A few months ago we looked at The High Line in New York City. A community led initiative which transformed an unused railway into a flourishing green stripe running through the city. A place by the community for the community. Yet with millions of visitors descending to The High Line every year land value increases to rise to the point where many residents are being forced to relocate.
The problem is while community projects can revitalise the area they seem to inevitably bring up value. Take East London: Brixton, Whitechapel, Hackney – home to huge cultural diversity, lower incomes, and higher crime rates – a recipe for ‘cool’. And drawn in by cool visitors begin to trail the streets. With visitors small businesses spring up to cater for spenders, creating a market for sourdough bread, home-brewed beer and vintage cereal (love it or hate it check out the Cereal Killer Cafe). With more money to spend the sourdough, home-brewed beer, and vintage cereal loving visitors eventually by their way into these areas driving up demand and driving up property prices. Yet where does the existing community fit into it all?
Filling the gaps
The existing community attempts to fill the gaps by occupying the cheaper plots of lands with community gardens on unused urban land and warehouse art galleries. But all this only brings more demand to the area. And while developers still have free reign over the city they respond to this demand by building over what drew people there in the first place. Knocking down the slightly shabby yet inevitably ‘cool’ warehouse studio for chic, sleek and expensive apartment blocks catered for newer bigger spenders.
A game of cat of mouse
Where communities begin to revitalise an area with small-scale accessible projects the developers soon follow and eventually in many cases push them out. And so for the moment with the freedom to build where they want it appears that in many cases these community initiatives are only adding coal to the gentrification fire which many believe are engulfing the true heart of our cities.