The gentrification of Brixton

Posted on October 9, 2016 by Toothpicker There have been 0 comments

p1170468-min  brixton windmill

brixton windmill

brixton windmill

brixton windmill  brixton windmill  coffee brixton

The restored grade II* listed Ashby's Mill, also known as Brixton windmill (1816) & a trendy cafe nearby

 

Due to rapid urbanisation around the world, major urban cities are struggling to cope with the influx of migrants for the past few decades. Housing shortage is one of the biggest challenges that these cities have to deal with; hence gentrification of the more deprived neighbourhoods has been adopted to solve this ongoing issue.

The term 'gentrification' was first coined by German/British sociologist Ruth Glass in 1964, and it was used to describe the processes by which the poor were squeezed out of parts of London to make way for the middle and upper classes. Unsurprisingly, the term carries a negative connotation due to increased property values and the displacement of lower-income families and local businesses. Since the 1960s, many neighbourhoods in London have undergone unprecedented transformation, and not all have been welcomed.

When I was young, I was often warned about areas in London like Brixton, Kings Cross, Camden Town, Dalston, Bethnal Green and even Soho because of high crime rates, drug dealing and prostitution issues. Brixton was regarded as 'the drugs capital of London', and so it was seen as a no-go area in London – unless you were going to The Fridge (a well-known nightclub in the 80s & 90s).

I only got to know Brixton because of my ex – who owned a flat there – and it was around that period that the area started to transform. I used to walk through Brixton with my head down when I was alone because I was afraid to catch the eye of the drug dealers or gangsters. Then gradually I felt more relaxed and began to explore the colourful and bustling food markets and independent shops selling vintage/ethnic fashion. There were hardly any chained shops or trendy cafes then, but there were many local restaurants and cafes serving good cheap eats.

I have only been back to the area a few times since he sold his flat – for a hefty profit – but I never spent enough time to see the changes that took place. Twelve years on, I was back in Brixton for a day during the design festival, but I could hardly recognise it. Yes, the architecture still stands but everything else has changed. Our previous after-party eatery Speedy noodles has become Foxtons, and the once dated department store Morleys looks more like House of Fraser now after the glossy makeover.

 

Architecture

 

brixton old post office

brixton old post office  brixton

Top & bottom left: Brixton sort office on Blenheim Gardens (1891); Bottom right: The Windmill pub is also a live music venue

 

My visit to the gentrified Brixton brought memories and surprises. The surprises came from the area's historical architecture, which is something that I overlooked in the past. In fact, Brixton has a diverse range of architecture – from Victorian to Edwardian and modernist – it is unlike any other neighbourhoods in London. And not to forget, it is also home of the only surviving windmill, Brixton windmill in inner London.

 

Corpus Christi Church, Brixton

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brixton library

St Matthew's Brixton   brixton

bon marche brixton

brixton dogstar

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Top: The Grade II listed Corpus Christi Church (1887); 2nd left: The Railway Hotel, aka Brady’s Bar (1880) is now Wahaca Mexican restaurant; 3rd row: Brixton Library (1893); 4th left: Portico of the Grade II listed St Matthew's church (1827); 4th right: Market House; 5th: the former Bon Marche department store (not related to the one in Paris) opened in 1877; 6th: Dogstar bar (former Atlantic pub)

 

Brixton has always been known for its diverse culture and music scene. The beloved Railway Hotel/ Brady's bar – with a distinctive tower – has been a landmark since it first opened as a hotel in 1880. It became a popular spot for music and dance, and was reputedly frequented by Jimmy Hendrix and The Clash in the 1960s. Renamed as Brady's in the 1990s, the iconic venue eventually closed down in 1999 and was left derelict since then. Despite long and persistent efforts to convert it to a community centre, the council finally sold it to the property developer, and now the site is occupied by the Mexican food chain Wahaca. Although the chain claims that it has restored the site to its former glory and is committed to the local community, it is hard not to feel sadden by the increasingly homogeneous streetscape in London now.

 

brixton railway arches

brxiton railway arches

Brixton railway arches

 

Recently, clashes between Brixton's anti-gentrification protestors and the police have made headline news. The protestors are angry that 30 local independent businesses in the Brixton Railway arches are being evicted by their landlord, Network Rail, and Lambeth Council, for a £8 million redevelopment of the arches. A petition objecting to Network Rail’s proposal has attracted nearly 30,000 signatures, and you can find more information by clicking on the Save Brixton arches website.

I can totally understand why the protestors are so upset especially after a visit to Pop Brixton, a Boxpark-like 'village' near the arches. The so-called village is occupied by trendy streetfood stalls and filled with young hipsters who usually hang out in Shoreditch, Dalston, Hackney and Peckham; and it looks completely out of place among the local market and shops nearby. As one can imagine, like the three areas mentioned, soon or later, Brixton will lose its unique identity and cultural diversity, and become another hipster paradise full of trendy and overpriced cafes and bars. Many have criticised the act of gentrification is a class war, and it is not difficult to see why they think that way.

 

Lambeth townhall

lambeth townhall  the former South Beach Bar brixton

ritzy brixton

brixton fire station

brixton

Top row & 2nd left: The Lambeth Town Hall (1908); 2nd right: the former South Beach Bar originally opened as the Brixton Hill Cinematograph in 1911; 3rd row: the Grade II listed Ritzy cinema (1911) is now run by Picturehouse; Bottom two rows: Brixton fire station (1906)

 

electric brixton

 Prince of Wales public house brixton

Olive Morris House brixton

brixton centre

brixton recreation centre  Rush flower sculpture in Windrush Square

The Black Cultural Archives

Top: Electric Brixton/formerly known as The Fringe, originally opened as the Palladium Picture Playhouse in 1913; 2nd row: The Prince of Wales public House was built by Joseph Hill F.R.I.B.A. to replace the old building in 1937; 3rd row: the Brutalist Olive Morris House was designed by Edward 'Ted' Hollamby in 1975-8, 4th & 5th left: the Grade II listed Brixton Recreation centre was designed by British architect George Finch in 1971 and took 12 years to complete. Its future is uncertain and it is still under the threat of demolition; 5th right: Rush flower sculpture in Windrush Square; Bottom: The Black Cultural Archives opened in 2014

 

Streetscape, shops & people

 

brixton bovril ghost sign

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brixton

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brixton market

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The unique streetscape and shops in Brixton

 

michaels meat brixton

brixton

brixton

brixton  brixton

brixton

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The colourful food market and shops selling fresh and exotic produce

 

Street art/graffiti

 

A mural inside the station created by Karen Smith and Angie Biltcliffe in 1986

brixton street art

brixton nathan bowen

brixton street art

brixton street art  david bowie street art  invader brixton

brixton street art

brixton street art

Top: A mural inside the station created by Karen Smith and Angie Biltcliffe in 1986; 3rd row: Street art by Nathan Bowen; 6th middle: David Bowie mural; 6th right: French street artist Invader's mosaic; Bottom two rows: Save Brixton arches street art – the bottom one was created by morganico and Maria Beadell

 

Street art and graffiti has always played crucial role in Brixton, and the eviction of local business by Network Rail has given the street artists a platform to express their dismay. One can find street art under the arches against the controversial redevelopment and unfair eviction.

Across the street lies David Bowie's famous mural created by Australian street artist James Cochran in 2013. Now the mural has become his shrine and it may even get listed.

I can't help feeling pessimistic about the future of Brixton. I think soon or later, local business run by Caribbean, African and other ethnic minorities will eventually be pushed out due to the increased rental costs, change of demographics and the invasion of chained/corporate-run businesses. But despite my pessimism, I still believe that community/people power can change things, and during this unsettling time, we need to support each other more than ever to fight for what we believe in.

 

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This post was posted in London, Food & dining, Architecture, Photography, Markets, Street art & graffiti, Social issues, Street life, British heritage, gentrification and was tagged with London, architecture, shopping, graffiti/ street art, Food markets, Brixton, gentrification

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