Not-For-Profit: Are Yuppies Really As Bad As Developers?

As you may have noticed, there was a protest in Brixton last Saturday against gentrification.

Dubbed ‘Reclaim Brixton,’ it was completely peaceful, until some protestors forced their way into the town hall. Finding nothing there except a civil marriage ceremony, they then smashed up the windows of a nearby Foxton’s – and, er, a Barnado’s – resulting in the police tear-gassing some of them.

Someone sprayed ‘yuppies out’ on Foxton’s remaining intact window. To everyone’s credit, the hostile atmosphere then evaporated and it stayed peaceful all evening.

[Daniel Defco / Flickr]

[Daniel Defco / Flickr]

I didn’t participate in this protest, largely because I assumed I’d be seen as part of the problem. Being a (sort of) young, urban professional, I suppose I fit the etymological definition of a yuppie – and although I’m a born-and-bred South Londonder, I’ve only lived in Brixton for three years, so I figured that joining an anti-gentrification protest would be considered pretty hypocritical.

That said, I technically met Reclaim Brixton’s stipulated criteria for participants, at least according to their Facebook page. Since I piss about in media, I obviously earn well below the maximum stated salary for protesters, while my landlord has owned the property I rent from him for over twenty years so it’s doubtful that he’s precipitated any looming evictions. Still, on the face of it, I could see why I might be about as welcome as Jeremy Clarkson at a climate change rally.

Long-time residents aiming their ire at the newcomers who are driving up property prices is understandable, but are they angry at the wrong people? If someone as outwardly hateable as me can actually claim the credentials to be picketing alongside them, you may need to recast your villains.

People in creative industries are typically the first to move into an affordable area because jobs that require creativity generally pay fucking terribly. In addition, they choose places based on more than just affordability; they want to live in areas that are vibrant and full of character, rather than just cheap. This may or may not instigate an influx of affluent newcomers, but replacing the existing community is the goal of precisely no one – largely because it’s what attracted them to the area in the first place.

[Jason_Cobb / Flickr]

[Jason_Cobb / Flickr]

However, what we want is apparently unimportant, because communities are definitely being ousted. The Independent recently revealed that between July and September last year, 277 families from Lambeth were relocated after losing their homes. Frequently, their evictions arose due to late rent payments, which is hardly surprising given the stagnation of wages against a ridiculous escalation of rent rates in the capital. Throw in benefit caps and the fact that anyone with social housing and a spare room is getting hit with the bedroom tax, and it starts to look like everything’s been orchestrated to clear poor people out of Central London so that the empty flats can be sold off to the landed gentrifiers.

This excellent article by David Simon – creator of The Wire, which is either your favourite show ever or something you’ve been told to watch by a slightly overzealous friend – discusses how America has abandoned all measures of social progress that aren’t pure profit.

It’s easy to measure and kind of impossible to argue against, but making it the only metric that matters means that we stop valuing other measures of societal health. This means that anyone who stands to make money from evicting low-income tenants and shipping them off to the suburbs is absolutely going to do so. The system that incentivises this is feted by all the major political parties as one that encourages profit – and since profit is good, more profit is by extension better, regardless of who actually benefits from it/how many poor people you have to relocate to the arse end of nowhere.

If you live anywhere in London, you’ll have noticed the number of soulless glass apartment blocks springing up everywhere. You’ve probably also realised that they’re only really affordable to the kind of people who don’t pronounce the ‘i’ in the word ‘finance’. No one on a non-square mile income can afford a property in London anymore, not even Brixton’s much-derided yuppies. We’ve reached the point where astronomical profit for a tiny circle of developers is achieved by leaving vast swathes of newly-developed areas lying uninhabited as they await hawking, while their previous tenants are booted 30 miles out of the city, and everyone involved congratulates each other for being great at capitalism.

[jackdean085 / Flickr]

[jackdean085 / Flickr]

Jesus, that’s depressing.

Yuppies might be an easier target than developers, but coagulating your frustration about many things into a single, tangible anger aimed at a specific target is ineffective at best and harmful at worst (I call it the UKIP Effect). But what the fuck can we do about it?

How do you challenge the people who are gutting the city’s communities in the voracious pursuit of pure profit? Whichever cobbled-together coalition ends up desperately grasping the reigns a few days after May 7th, it’s not like they’re going to do anything other than bang on about how wonderful it is that London’s growth, not content with bleeding the rest of the country dry, is now purging the city itself of many of its long-time residents to make way for a wave of literal emptiness.

Well, there’s a glimmer of hope, I suppose. A few weeks ago, London saw the most egregious, piss-taking development land-grab it’s ever witnessed when an Israeli development company bulldozed Kilburn’s Carlton Tavern without telling the landlord – or anyone – what they were planning on doing, just days before the building was due to receive listed status. If you guessed that they were planning to build anything other than a soulless block of flats, then please go back to the start of this article and pay attention this time round. Figuring that their eventual profits would outweigh any fine levied at them for this flagrant disregard of London’s social fabric, the company in question has had its plans scuppered by Westminster City Council, who have hilariously ordered them to “recreate in facsimile the building as it stood immediately prior to its demolition”.

[Emily Webber / Flickr]

[Emily Webber / Flickr]

Rebuilding a pub brick-for-brick is a brilliant comeuppance for an uppity property developer, although it’s too late for Brixton’s Mango Landin’, which was reduced to a pile of rubble a couple of months ago to make way for…oh for fuck’s sake, you already know. Still, any sign that councils have the power to veto the all-powerful harbingers of profit can be taken as a positive – particularly if it means preserving the social fabric of an area that deserves to see its culture cemented in place.

Words: James Barton

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