Monday, 18 July 2016

I recently read a recent article on the decline of the suburbs, which can be read
here, and which I found interesting insofar as something counter to that seems to be happening in the corner of London where I now live.
I moved to Leyton four years ago, and much has changed in that time. When I first arrived, around August 2012, the High Street had been spruced up a little for the Olympics in pretty pastel colours, but it was still fairly obviously an area that had obviosuly suffered years of neglect: with shopfronts shoddily converted to flats and betting shops and fried chicken joints everywhere, interspersed with nail bars and car wash businesses.

Doing some digging on the internet, I trawled up some
images of Leyton in the 1960s, and I was surprised to see how different it looked. Most obviously, there are much fewer cars on the roads, but in general it has the feel of a well-to-do working class area, with useful looking shops, well maintained streets, and smartly dressed, predominantly white inhabitants, going about their businesses with an air of vim and purpose... which stands in stark contrast to the careworn appearance it presented as little as four years ago, following thirty years of gradual dilapidation.

In 'Postcapitalism', Paul Mason observes a similar degradation in working class areas around England, which he attributes to the desecration of industry (and employment therein) in the UK, and the replacement of wages with easily available credit. Leyton used to have many factories, employing local people, and it seems reasonable that their dissappearance ushered in the decades of decline that followed. The area has an overwhelmingly diverse ethnic mix, and it is sad that recent immigrants are seen as displacers of the now absent white working classes, when the latter arguably moved out to Essex for economic reasons.

Now again – as in so much of London – the demographic seems to be shifting once more, with a younger set of professionals migrating across the Lea Valley, from whence they were presumably priced out of Hackney. Eateries and coffee shops have started to pop up, and the phrase 'gentrification' is not far from everyone's lips. It seems churlish to not feel a little for those who might now get pushed even further out, but it is hard not to feel a little happy that some people are once again establishing businesses here, and expending a little love on the place (even if the chi-chi moniker 'Leyton Village' seems a little far fetched).

If the likes of Leyton can be revitalised or regenerated (it being an area that was until fairly recently still part of Essex) you have to wonder how much of the city there is to left gentrify, before the poor run out of (or are run out of) London.