Posted by Stacey Hunter – Co-Editor @StaceyHunterEDI
Join the conversation: Whether you’re a citizen, and activist or a property developer, I’d like you to take part in a public conversation during the next two months.
The New Met has consistently provoked diverse discussions about urban citizenship and I’m pleased to introduce some new research of my own that will build on some of the key New Met events of 2015.
As part of a post-doctoral fellowship with IASH (Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities), I’m working on an ambitious urban citizenship scoping project in Leith with a theme at its core that has emerged consistently in New Met discussions: gentrification.
Whether you call it gentrification, urban renewal or even regeneration, if you live in a city it’s probably happening at a place near you – and whether you benefit from it, or lose out, might be key to how you perceive redevelopment.
What We Talk About When We Talk About ‘gentrification’
The potential for urban areas to collaborate to resist the adverse effects of gentrification will be explored in Leith, Edinburgh through a series of sessions aimed at bringing together differing tactics, outlooks and know-how. This initial event hopes to go beyond the typical individualised debates and instead hold Leith-specific discussions with a variety of people living and working in Leith.
A bigger, open event to conclude these sessions is planned which will share information and offer a nuanced report on the opportunities and threats of redevelopment in Leith. This event will attempt to:
- clarify the perspectives of various stakeholders with regard to gentrification;
- offer some practical strategies to address gentrification in the context of equitable
- debate the possibility of establishing a ‘Change Management’ forum which could help craft an effective agenda for public officials
While gentrification is controversial and complex, much of the debate attaches itself to the idea that property development is ‘Bad’ whilst art, culture and notions of community are ‘Good’. Seemingly intractable positions pitch local governance, citizens and developers against one another. But, as our past series of events has demonstrated, it is not impossible to begin to test ideas about urban citizenship that hinge on collaboration. Scholarship from architecture and the social sciences acknowledges that the dominant forces of neoliberal economics often work to obscure the processes and procedures that produce gentrification. Additionally, dealing with the complexity and uncertainty of the urban realm makes it difficult for communities to resist the seemingly irrepressible forces of capitalism.
A summary of the issues
We very seldom talk about gentrification in isolation, it’s connected to a multitude of other urban aspects yet we agree that the most common signs of a gentrifying neigbourhood are highly visible: so called ‘hipster’ cafes and bars, rising property prices and an increased interest in the preservation of heritage architecture are some of the most common. Harder to see are the destructive consequences for people that already live in the soon-to-be gentrified neighborhood. Displacement and the loss of rituals or customs are difficult to pin-point or record. The reduction of social housing and the rise of student housing in Leith is regarded by some as part of the process of achieving mixed communities but as one of our early articles argued–if social mix is the aim why is the focus always on deprived areas? [see Peter Matthews article Creating ‘mixed communities’ means starting at the top – so let’s bulldoze Belgravia]
Similarly, many of the people interested in talking about gentrification feel that they themselves are complicit (unwittingly or unwillingly sometimes) in gentrification processes either by buying property or perhaps via the unintended consequences of artistic or cultural production. Dominic Hinde wrote about this subject for us back in September following the #Fuckparade rioting in London describing gentrification as a “fig leaf for Scotland’s failed urban policies“. The Scotsman [a national newspaper] published an op-ed by Brian Ferguson in November where he stated that while artists and cultural organisations “have not exactly benefited from the property boom … They stand to benefit a great deal from the gentrification of Leith Walk if the current scene can be carefully nurtured and encouraged.” Mainstream media articles arguably perpetuate a false choice between gentrification or decay/dereliction and commonly employ a language that presents economically deprived areas as abused spaces which can be ‘healed’ by middle-class gentrifiers. As a member of one community in the US stated “If you say gentrification, then you are implying that our neighborhood was once a slum.”
Discussion Group 1
A group of participants* representing part of Leith’s cultural community will be invited to reflect on Leith today and its cultural future.
The Cultural Life of Leith: Opportunities and Threats of Renewal & Regeneration
Facilitators: Stacey Hunter and Tom Farrington
Topics for discussion:
- The image of gentrification typically centers around symbols such as hipsters, coffee shops or chain stores; often thought of as the canary in the mineshaft – but what is it specifically about the image of Leith that should be maintained?
- Leith’s evening activity has seen significant changes in the past decade (and more) what aspects of the area are at risk or could benefit from development?
- Significant grassroots cultural production in Leith has traditionally been well supported locally; what are the opportunities or risks involved in more ‘top-down’, centrally organised or privately financed cultural production?
Discussion Group 2
Living and Working in Leith: Crafting an Effective Agenda for Public Officials
February 2016, Venue and Date TBC | This meeting is invite only due to to constraints of space and funding – for enquiries about attending please email to address below or subscribe using the form at the bottom of the page.
Facilitators: Stacey Hunter and Tom Farrington
If community groups, residents, organisations and local governance can anticipate gentrification early, they have a unique opportunity to capture some of the benefits of ‘revitalisation’ for lower-income neighbourhoods and their residents, while working to avoid any adverse consequences of gentrification (Dealing with neighbourhood change, Maureen Kennedy & Paul Leonard 2001). The aim of this discussion is to identify some of the opportunities and threats of planned (and current) renewal and regeneration in Leith.
Topics for discussion:
- Leith has traditionally enjoyed a strong sense of community despite distinct gaps in privilege and and pockets of deprivation. What might be the political and practical solutions required to maintain and increase community integration? Is integration a valid aim?
- Leith’s evening activity has seen significant changes in the past decade (and more) what aspects of Leith nightlife are changing and how can Leith ensure it continues to serve its residents?
- The rumour that a Starbucks is expected to open has been met with disapproval from some who lament the loss of Leith’s current status as #NOCHAINCOFFEE zone. What tactics can Leithers take to make their views heard most effectively?
- Affordable housing, social housing, student housing and displacement are amongst the most talked about subjects in Leith. What are the most important issues to focus on for future stability?
If you’d like to participate using social media then please Tweet, Instagram or Facebook on the subject of gentrification using the hashtag #CITIZENLEITH
We will compile a Storify exhibition as the project unfolds…
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