Croydon still isn’t gentrified

By - Monday 23rd February, 2015

…and it’s not going to be anytime soon, says James Naylor

In Croydon, this would be premature.
Photo by Connie, used under Creative Commons licence.

The gentrification debate has been rumbling on, quietly but solidly in Croydon for a good couple of years now. The moment that the first trendy coffee shop established in the centre of town began to build publicity (I’m talking about Matthews Yard – for those who don’t already know it), people began talking about the town’s coming gentrification as a real threat to the Croydon we know now. Fear soon grew from some quarters that we would soon be descended upon by an army of hipsters drawn to Croydon’s gritty charms and bankers drawn to a new crop of – at that point unbuilt – skyscraping steel and glass yuppie fortresses.

I think its safe to say that gentrification has not happened yet. At least if it is happening, the caveats are substantial: There’s only one residential mega-structure looming over the town so far – although as I have previously claimed, I believe that this is a sign of green-shoots for Croydon, to use a somewhat dangerous phrase. Matthews Yard has very substantial die-hard fan base, but is in a somewhat rocky financial position at present. While house prices rose considerably last year it came out only last week that rents have actually dropped. And while there have been some classically-hipster-looking ventures – an excellent Indian streetfood restaurant on Dingwall road, and an art gallery (RISE) with the work of genuinely globally famous pop artists gracing its walls – Croydon is still a long, long way from being Shoreditch. Most of its residents and frequent visitors are unaware of these ventures, and I have yet to see them really magnetising vast swathes of London’s creative class. Still, I would hope that anyone who read the centre spread in our January 2015 news magazine would see that the arts scene is strong.

Let’s not underplay the effect that gentrification can have on an area though. The absolutely fantastic cover story on this month’s Citizen magazine, penned by the very talented Lauren Furey, paints a grim picture of what might happen should Croydon gentrify in the ways we’ve seen it before: the very people who’ve been keeping the town going get pushed away, and the things that made Croydon a great community with an eclectic mix of residents and cultures – the things that made it attractive – are systematically destroyed by commercial interests pandering to homogenised mainstream tastes.

I for one would be appalled to see this place become any less welcoming to a global citizenry of people from all walks of life

But, as I have always done, I remain very optimistic about Croydon’s future as being as genuinely egalitarian and diverse as the entirety of London itself; as basically being somewhere that is gentrification proof. That’s because – to repeat an oddly simple phrase I’ve been teased a little for before – Croydon is big.

Croydon is not Brixton, Hoxton, Battersea or Balham. The town centre’s sheer size, and – more importantly – the ratio of people that use it or work in it (unlike these places) to the people that actually live in it, is vast. The people that characterise it – and therefore the kinds of businesses that operate in it – are not really the town centre’s resident population. Its users, and therefore business customers, are from far and wide: from Thornton Heath to New Addington, from Beddington to Coulsdon, from Purley to South Norwood. The odds are that you, the person reading this piece, are not a resident of central Croydon.

What do these peculiarities of it as a place mean? It means that Croydon becoming a comfortably middle-class, slightly-too precious monoculture will require all of those places to go the same way; not just for a substantial portion of its current residents to be replaced. The practical reality is simply against it. For this to happen it’ll require the total exclusion of anyone but the wealthy from the whole of the Greater London area, not just the parts that were traditionally poorer areas. What we’re talking about here would be an exodus of people on ordinary incomes many, many times the size of what we’ve seen in the past ten years. This seems especially unlikely when the very transformation of those places happened, in part, because a reverse process was going on in the suburubs of outer London. Every study shows that as the inner city grew wealthier, outer London grew poorer. The trajectory of Croydon itself – in an un-arrested state of decline from the late ’80s to 2011 – is all the evidence you need the wealth doesn’t just increase in London from the centre; it moves around too.

Does that mean we should be complacent about the negatives that some degree of gentrification will bring? Definitely not. I for one would be appalled to see this place – this crazy, mini-metropolis sitting awkwardly on the edge of London – become any less welcoming to a global citizenry of people from all walks of life. But I don’t think we need to worry yet. Take a look around: as a friend once said to me, “If you really think that we’re on the verge of becoming a ghetto for the rich and privileged, you might need your eyes tested”.

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James Naylor

James Naylor

James grew up in Coulsdon. After a brief spell in Somerset he returned to central Croydon as a useful London base. Since then however, his enthusiasm for Croydon has slowly grown into obsession – leading him to set up Croydon Tours and eventually the Croydon Citizen. James is particularly interested in the power of local media to foster new ways of thinking about communities and how to empower them. He is most interested in putting Croydon in a wider context within London, the economy and across time. During the week, he works for an advertising technology company hailing from Silicon Valley. When he’s not working on Croydon-related projects, he enjoys desperately nerdy but hugely enjoyable boardgames. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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  • Robert Ward

    “If you really think that we’re on the verge of becoming a ghetto for the rich and privileged, you might need your eyes tested”.

    I think you also need your head examining too.

    • James Naylor

      Hah! Probably true…

  • NeilB

    Great article – though probably too early to say that the decline has stopped in 2011. I agree that its mainly wealth moving from the outer suburbs to the centre and that doesn’t look its going to reverse any time soon. Its sad to hear that Matthews yard has financial problems.

    • James Naylor

      Cheers Neil! I put that date based on 2011 riots being an uncontroversial low-point for Croydon and because I see a more positive than negative picture developing since thent A more high-profile (if not actually greater) sense of community spirit in the riots wake, Croydon Tech City, the emergence of cultural attractions with that community spirit like RISE and Matthews Yard and the Spreadeagle Theatre, real progress in Westfield plans (which I see have a strong chance of actually being built), new construction not seen on a scale since the 1980s, including one of the country’s tallest residential projects. I outlined further details on this theme here: . To me, that’s quite a lot of very concrete stuff: even if not everyone would agree that all of that was wholly positive, to me it seems to be the beginning of a climb out of a slump; economically, culturally and socially. But, as I think I imply here – it is just a start.

      It is indeed! Although it looks like they’re beginning to solve most of those problems now.