Exploration / London

Brixton: Gentrification & A Clash of Cultures

Until very recently I was working on a large estate regeneration project in London.  The word Regeneration is awash in the city with constant construction during my friend’s recent visit she nicknamed London ‘Crane City’.

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Very apt as in the city of London (and outside) they are building faster than you can say London Town.  Regeneration is not new, estate regeneration is as old as the estates themselves.  So, at some point you will have to rebuild and you must change with the times.

I have lived in north and south London only but visited east London extensively over the years.  I’ve seen new housing blocks appear seemingly over night and walls with street art disappear.  The life, color and vibrancy gone.  This is bound to happen  and I wouldn’t suggest it stop.  However, I would say that it needs to be done carefully and developers should retain the essence of what makes an area unique.

Brixton Arches - Brixton

All areas of London are not immune.  Places that I used to frequent when I first moved here in 2008 are unrecognizable now and that is over the span of a short 8 years.  Taken over by hipster types with man buns, pop up restaurants and gin bars.  These are all welcome and while I enjoy a well placed man bun, they tend to sanitize an area.  When you lose what was special about a community you can’t get it back.

Brixton has undergone so much change over the years.  I am not best placed to go over the history here but I do suggest you read it because it is very interesting.  The one thing I did know about Brixton when I moved to London was Electric Avenue and that it was a black area of the city.  There were warnings to stay away at night or in general but thankfully my stubbornness wouldn’t allow me to listen.

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I visited and found a vibrant community of mostly Jamaicans but everyone was there.  Brixton is an area where David Bowie was born, where race riots took place back in the day and where black people lived and worked in high numbers.  It is a much more integrated community now and that is for the better.

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But you cannot deny that Brixton is still to this day synonymous with Jamaican culture. When my mum visited her first time it was the first place we took her to get provisions for my favorite dishes that she was going to make us.  We went on a Saturday morning when Electric Avenue is at its best and bustling.  My mom had a fantastic time and I keep meaning to return on a Saturday.

Brixton - Save the Arches

Recently I went to Brixton with a few friends, Mandy, Guernsey Jen and fiance D.  We were originally going to check out the Black Cultural Archives and then have a walk around to see the David Bowie Memorial and all the other street art.  I’m not sure why we didn’t go to see the archives, they might have been closed but I can’t remember.

Running a bit late once we emerged at Brixton Tube Mandy had text us to say that she was in Pop Brixton.  As we walked past the arches and further away from the markets I started to wonder where exactly we were going.  Up ahead I saw some brightly coloured containers stacked on each other and a guard at the opening.

My heart sank, I was disappointed that I had passed all these markets and shops to come to a makeshift area that felt the need to have a bouncer at the front.  Once inside I looked for any signs that this area incorporated any of the culture that typified Brixton.  There was one stall where I got fresh over priced juice called It’s Ghana Be Tasty.

I couldn’t see anywhere to get proper Jamaican food.  It was a cool little area but I felt out of place.  Filled with hipster types who probably used their petal bikes to get there I didn’t have much hope for finding good cheap food here.  After walking by many stalls I settled on Japanese food.  It was okay but for the price and what it was, I could find much better elsewhere.

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Overall it is a cool little area and I do recommend going as you should always judge things for yourself.  If I listened to others I’d have avoided Brixton entirely.  I just felt that it was a completely separate space for those who don’t really care to interact with the wider community and culture in Brixton to hang out.  So then why go to Brixton at all?

Pop Up Art - Brixton

One thing I did really like was the artistic element.  There was a young woman showcasing her work and had a blank canvas where passersby could draw.  There was a Canadian flag on it so of course I loved it.

It is a chill space and if you are going with friends and having a few drinks likely even better.  I might return but I wouldn’t rush back.  I found it a bit weird having bouncers at the front and not exactly sure why they were there.  I also found the juxtaposition of this space and the save the arches campaign to be at odds with each other.

David Bowie Memorial - Brixton

Inevitably every area changes, grows and expands.  I welcome this as I live in an area of London that was and is still considered a bit rough around the edges. True grit as it were. Due to man bun types however we now have so much more choice of cuisine, amazing street art, and rising property prices.  Some of this good and some bad.  My point is I am not anti change, in fact I usually run at change head on and just jump.  That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be managed in a way to ensure the local community is integrated.  For me Pop Brixton misses that mark.

*Check out Mandy’s post about Pop Brixton here as she had a completely different view than I did.  Variety is the spice of life!

10 thoughts on “Brixton: Gentrification & A Clash of Cultures

  1. Slight correction: Ghana be Tasty is a motto for Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen which is upstairs and is amazing Ghanaian food. Downstairs is the juice place whose name I can’t remember. And there is some great jerk in pop brixton (though refill behind morleys I think is best).

    When I took my mum to have some Ghanian food she did notice how white Pop’s atmosphere is. She used to live in Brixton in the 80s.

    • I couldn’t find any inside pop Brixton that was decently priced. Yeah it seemed like an island of it’s own with no real connection to the neighbourhood.

  2. Interesting post. I love Brixton for the vibrance and variety if offers. When my dad comes to London, we usually head to Brixton for some ackee and saltfish…even if its raining. 😉

  3. Hello Melissa!!!
    Great article!

    I am writing a piece on Brixto’s gentrification for Artefact magazine at London College of Communications.

    I would to enqure if I could use your photo (graffiti with Brixton name) to accompany my article. The photo will be credited!

    Thank you.

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