Thursday, August 24, 2017
The price of gentrification

The price of gentrification

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Some people hate gentrification – the middle-classing, if that’s a verb, or ‘hipster-isation’, if that’s a noun, of an area.

They grumble as new streets fall prey to the coffee bars and gastropubs of Hipsterville.

The greasy spoon cafes serve on in their shadow in a chips-versus-quinoa silent war. If the gentrification takes root, the local café owner hangs up his or her apron and makes way for an independent gift shop selling bath salts fashioned to look like cupcakes.

I remember someone paying £60,000 for a house in Stockwell Park Road in the 1980s and my school being alight to the fact. “Oh my God!” us kids called in wonder. “Who’d pay that much money for a house in Stockwell? Are they mad?”

That was way before talk of house prices sent me scuttling to the nearest loo, buffet table or house party guest who had a better line of conversation than someone wanting to tell me how Gipsy Hill is the new Dulwich or how Brixton is the new Chelsea or… Yes, it is fascinating that property prices have continued to climb, and some of us have bought council houses in crumby areas that will one day make us comfortable, but whoa, house talk is dull.

Still, it is the bedrock of gentrification: the search for reasonably priced property that brings richer people into an area and then the businesses to serve them.

It continues across London and most cities around the world, and sometimes improves communities where the only amenity for work and play is the betting shop.

I found myself on Monday in the back end of Penge in a pub – sofas like my gran would have had, a 1970s sideboard, and bookshelves brimming with Jane Austen, Ian Fleming and Trollope.

The crowd is made up of men who’ve probably never erected a tent but whose beards give them an air of ruggedness, and women with long hair and ironic moth eaten jumpers sipping from bottles of beer brewed in Brockley. Old friends had invited us to the quiz night.

They’re locals. I ask if they mind the gentrification of Penge. “No, this pub is lovely.” I’d agree, but the quiz master looks grumpy.

“Next time, I’m not letting the crowd choose the special knowledge subject,” he says. Last week they went for the Norwegian Royal Family, this week it’s English Operas.

He fears the subjects are so dire he’ll struggle to stay awake setting the questions. The chances of me knowing anything about opera are remote.

I’ve warned my other half on many occasions that I’m as good at quizzes as the cast of TOWIE.

He might as well have brought the cat with him. However, we come second and won a bottle of wine, probably because the hipster crowd is too young and hip to have heard of Gene Pitney or Gary Newman in the music round.

The quiz only cost us £2 each and I wondered why more locals had stayed at home. Are the bookshelves intimidating?

Are the questions too difficult? Is the beer selection unfamiliar and expensive? Before we leave, the quiz master starts to say that this week he’s not leaving it to the crowd to choose the special knowledge questions. Before he can finish his announcement, a young woman shouts out “Please, please, I’ve got a subject!!!!” “OK, go one then,” he caves in. The special knowledge subject should be Penge.”

No-one can argue with that, and perhaps next Monday there’ll be more locals in attendance.

Either way, it’s a fun night with gentle folk. Perhaps this ‘hipster-isation’ isn’t such a bad thing as long as the two worlds brought into juxtaposition can find a way to meet and enjoy each other.

Victoria Silverman is founder of BeTeenUs.com, online community for the parents of teenagers.

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The price of gentrification