Is gentrification a “bad thing”?
The area I moved to in Watford a few years ago was a nice lower middle class area. There was a splattering of landlord owned houses, but mostly they were lived in by people who owned them. The shops were pleasantly untidy and the only eaters were fast food joints and a cafe that had been there for 20 years.
Now I’m watching the area change – gentrify as the vernacular would have it. House prices have risen steadily as people have been driven out of London by high rents and prices. Landlords compete aggressively with families for the properties at do come up for sale. Sandwich bars and charity shops are being replaced with stylish coffee shops.
And is this a bad thing?
Things change. Just as those who lived in the streets forty years ago would have been bemused or concerned by the arrival of supermarkets, so we are watching a new wave of change come over Watford. New tastes, eager for lattes and free Wi-Fi, have brought their families into the area. Houses that have been untouched in two or three decades are being renovated to meet modern demands and styles.
Yes, there are casualties. Watfordians are finding it harder to buy houses in the town where they grew up. Buildings that have stood for decades are being torn down and replaced with taller blocks of offices and flats (“luxury apartments” in the local speak of Estate Agents). The nature of the town is undergoing a shift towards the upper middle classes as those with different aspirations and dreams move to a place where their city commute is just a few minutes.
Is this change inherently bad? Gentrification comes with negative connotations, a perception that old communities are being destroyed. It speaks to a romantic ideal where neighbours are always sharing stories across the garden fence and popping in and out to borrow sugar. This world doesn’t exist, perhaps never did beyond a Kitchen Sink Drama.
I see gentrification as renewal. It brings investment into tired buildings and creates new communities. It does create change, but when change creates a fresh space and a new mix of people I don’t think this is inherently bad.