Regeneration or Gentrification?

Hackney Wick.jpg

Regeneration or Gentrification?

The Hackney Wick Story 

The speech by Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn at this week’s party conference in Brighton has once again brought the regeneration vs gentrification argument into the mainstream media, with outlets including BBC Radio having public call-ins on the topic.  With my practice being based in Hackney Wick, I feel that I am somewhat on the frontline of the debate, as the former industrial buildings (including the one I am sitting in right now) being earmarked for destruction to be replaced mostly with new residential buildings, albeit with commercial and other uses on the lower levels.   The picture above, taken just around the corner to our studio, highlights this change clearly.  

Gentrification as a term is defined in dictionaries as ‘the process of renovating and improving a house or district so that it conforms to middle-class taste’ whereas Regeneration is defined as ‘To produce again, make new’ or ‘renewal or restoration of parts or biological tissues’. Both quite distinct and different meanings, but in the world of development they seem to have been become almost synonyms – but one seen as positive and one as negative. What I see out of the studio window in Hackney Wick each day is definitely regeneration – the old buildings and land uses are swept away, and new buildings appear in their place.  In fact, it could be argued that actually gentrification is what many of those that are campaigning are actively engaged in – none of the artist’s studios or workspaces and bars, breweries and restaurants of the area were designed as such – they have all taken over buildings left behind by former industrial tenants.  One example I have always found interesting is the story of ‘Mick’s Garage’ around the corner in Queens Yard.  Now managed and run by local success story Crate Brewery, it is named after Mick the mechanic who featured in an Evening Standard piece about how he was being forced out of his garage through rent rises – presumably rises that Crate can afford to pay. I am not sure if naming this new ‘hipster hangout’ (as I have heard it called!) after him is touching or adding insult to injury.  

I have no doubt that what is happening in Hackney Wick is Regeneration and not Gentrification, despite what the detractors (and there are many) say. Through the investment of others, the physical infrastructure of the area is slowly improving and the biggest issue seems to be how that investment is recouped through rents – both for residential and commercial sites. I think that more can be done to work in partnership – too often developers are seen as the ‘outsiders’ coming in and pillaging the local community, but we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that not all that long ago, the creatives were the outsiders. Maybe the issue is that they were seen as taking over unloved, unlettable vacant spaces, whereas developers are, in some cases, ‘forcing out’ actively used ones either physically or financially, and in many cases, both.  However as with most things in life, the story is not so simple.   

Maybe there is a different way.  Maybe there is a way of improving the area, developers and investors working with locals to bring new homes while at the same time retaining the affordable workspace that has attracted creatives to the area too. Certainly, there are some examples of this – the collaboration between Hill, Peabody and The Trampery at Fish Island Village is one to watch for sure, and maybe there was a way for Crate to expand and Mick to stay in his Garage ... and this is something I will look at in a separate article. 

This article also appeared on Paul's LinkedIn page