The gentrification of Croydon and why we’re all to blame


By - Monday 30th September, 2013

Mario Creatura warns us to strap in and get ready for gentrification – but urges us to understand the good things it will actually bring


Matthews Yard, the first of many indie hotspots for Croydon? Photo by Kake Pugh, image used under Creative Commons license

Matthews Yard, the first of many indie hotspots for Croydon? Photo by Kake Pugh, image used under Creative Commons license

On Sunday’s In the Loopthe discussion focused on the regeneration of Croydon town centre and the effects of investment around the borough. The guests fell ostensibly into two camps: first, those who believe that gentrification brings investment which enables public realm improvements and enhanced local services and generates thousands of new jobs. Second: those that believe that it could force a reduction in affordable housing, pricing indigenous Croydonians out of their homes in favour of wealthier residents.

Both are perfectly valid positions to take. The potential positive and negative effects of gentrification will shape not just Croydon, but every city currently undergoing mass-development. I recently wrote about this relentless global march of urbanisation and it’s important to note that, as with all cities, this will have a huge impact on local communities like ours. Croydon’s population is expected to experience a net increase of around 45,000 people by 2031, putting the total borough population at 385,000, or an increase of 13% on today’s figures. Conversations about our future have never been more important.

Take a cursory look through the pages of The Croydon Citizen. You’ll see story after story praising areas of community innovation, championing events and projects that bring neighbours together and highlighting tales aimed at improving the perception of the town. The Croydon Advertiser and Croydon Guardian, similarly, write about efforts to better the brand of the borough and rightly rail against anyone who smears our town. We all support that. You’d have to be mad not to want everyone to think better of the place you live.

The sort of person taking the time to read this article is probably also relentlessly championing the important role of these groups in reviving the reputation of Croydon

Similarly, it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t want to support more small businesses. We want more independent coffee shops like Matthews Yard. We all want Tech City to be successful, bringing businesses together to generate more grassroots innovation and investment in the town. We crave cultural initiatives like the Cherry Orchard Arts Festival and encourage huge conferences like Drupal at Fairfield Halls. We want more local produce like Cronx Beer and Mad Ass Chilli on display at more events like the South End Food Festival. We enjoy alternative pubs like the Green Dragon and bars like The Scream Lounge and feast at nouveau restaurants like Albert’s Table and Brasserie Vacherin in our ‘Restaurant Quarter’.

The type of person that uses all of these facilities, who is likely the sort of person taking the time to read this article, is also relentlessly championing the important role of these groups in reviving the reputation of Croydon. And it’s working. The steely resolve of residents to bolster the image of our town certainly played a crucial role in convincing Westfield and Hammerson to invest over £1billion in regenerating the Whitgift Centre. The important, grassroots effort to clean up Croydon after the riots inspired played a role in incentivising Berkeley Homes to pour millions into the now almost sold out Saffron Square apartment block. That passion also inspired the renewed confidence that led to construction on The Island (formerly Iylo) resuming. All this and much more, all coming as a result of increased financial confidence in the borough.

And that’s come in no small part from us. Our grassroots efforts to sing the praises of the town are starting to improve Croydon’s reputation for the better.

The riots shocked us, we fought back with volunteering now booming in the Borough

But there is a cost to our success, one that Sunday’s In the Loop didn’t directly explore. Gentrification is the inevitable outcome of our middle-class effort to improve our community.

The council’s economic development model estimates that the town centre improvements will generate around 16,000 new jobs across Croydon. Those jobs, and the improved reputation that we all are helping to create, is making Croydon an appealing place for families to relocate to. Indeed, people are flocking to the town and buying up new ‘luxury’ apartments like those at Saffron Square. This is an inevitable consequence of our constant praise for the town. The riots shocked us, we fought back with volunteering now booming in the borough. We poured our efforts into challenging the negative stereotypes and we are succeeding in knocking them back. Our success has led to billions of pounds being invested in Croydon and creating tens of thousands of jobs for residents. It is attracting thousands of new, comfortably well-off residents to settle and shop here. They will be moving into the town centre and will slowly start settling in the North of the borough as the benefits of central regeneration spread. They’ll likely pay increased rates of Council Tax and Income Tax, and the town will evolve around the demands of them and current residents.

Just like us, they’ll help to create more ‘Matthews Yards’ and support all the indie pursuits that we crave today. They’ll shape their neighbourhoods and create communities of their own to suit their own tastes. This is what gentrification is. There will likely be some social friction, but their slow unconscious persistence will win the day. As sociologists J. J. Schlichtman and Patch noted: ‘if any middle-class presence in a neighbourhood is evidence of gentrification, then it’s impossible for a middle-class person not to gentrify.’  Their instincts and values will subtly seep into the areas they choose to move into. This is part of the natural evolution of a town, which some in Croydon deride as ‘gentrification’.

Gentrification is not something that a local authority or a particular political party can directly control. It comes from us

This is not a critique or defence of gentrification. I am attempting to demonstrate that it is an unavoidable consequence of our successful rebranding of Croydon. It is going to happen. We wanted people to think better of our town and we are succeeding; now they too want a piece of Croydon. Wouldn’t you?

The ebullient Pat Reid claimed on In The Loop that regeneration is nothing more than Conservative gerrymandering to hold the council for next year’s local elections or a grand conspiracy to give Gavin Barwell, MP for Croydon Central, more votes to hold his seat. This assumes the middle-classes can’t be left-wing which is laughable on many levels. Gentrification is not something that a local authority or a particular political party can directly control. It comes from the grassroots, from us.

Whether you are for or against gentrification, be under no mistake that it is coming. And it’s entirely our fault for being so damn proud to be from Croydon.

Mario Creatura

Mario Creatura

Mario is a lifelong Croydon resident. He works for Heineken as their Public Affairs Manager. He has previously worked in Parliament as a researcher for Gavin Barwell, MP for Croydon Central. Mario has been a Conservative Councillor for Coulsdon West on Croydon Council since May 2014.

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  • cpmatthews

    I’d like to know what the opposite of Gentrification is from those who oppose it. Stagnation? Urban decline? Mario is right, regeneration makes an area desirable. Desirability ups the prices of the housing stock. People with potentially more disposable income move in. The services in the area grow to support the new needs of the evolving population. This isn’t a bad thing or a good thing, objectively. Some will “win” some will “lose” in this change, but that is the nature of change. It’s unfortunate but it happens. This is why Greenwich and Dulwich are nice now, why Peckham is up and coming.

    Change happens whether we like it or not and this is what we get for having worked so hard to make our town a great place to be. It’s more valuable to us than it was 3 years ago so it is more valuable to those looking in. How about we celebrate this shift in value rather than moan about it?

    • Anne Giles

      Spot on, Chris.

      • Louis Akindele

        This article and some of the comments to support it are quite horrifying in their one eyed view of the changes which are taking place.
        The improvement of Croydon central and the borough as a whole can only be a good thing. On that we can agree. The current developments and future plans for Croydon are a fantastic process.
        Essentially it seems that the improvements in Croydon according to Mr Creatura and Cpmatthews are being made to draw in more outsiders. More desirable people. Those with more disposable income. The 16,000 new jobs will be mainly for ‘families to relocate to’ not for the poor and unemployed already in the borough. They will be forced outwards. To areas with lower rent. With worse facilities. With less jobs. To rebrand CPmatthews wording the rich will be the winners and the poor will be the losers.
        Perhaps Mr Creatura has forgotten that several years ago Croydon was one of those ‘outer’ areas. The gentrification of central London and areas like Clapham, Peckham and Balham forced many people further south. To Croydon. This artificial congregation of people with a lack of jobs, opportunities, hope and a deep sense of social injustice ultimately ended up leading to the Riots of 2011.
        Gentrification is not a cure of those problems. It is a movement of those problems elsewhere. A process of social cleansing, whether run by the government or not. If we do not take care to prevent this then those wealthy residents in their luxury Saffron Square apartments will be watching the 2018 riots unfolding on Sky news in other areas such as Dartford, Bexleyheath and Tunbridge Wells where the displaced poor of Croydon are being sent to.
        The improvement in Croydon should be in large part FOR the current residents of the borough. Not simply to appeal to those more desirable people priced out of central London living and forced to move southwards.

  • Nigel Hixon

    this country will never improve all the time we are in the eu , lets get out and re think stratergy , give the do gooders who think they run the country minimum wage .

  • Liz Sheppard-Jones

    ‘If any middle-class presence in a neighbourhood is evidence of gentrification, then it’s impossible for a middle-class person not to gentrify’ is bang on. I’m doing my bit to gentrify West Croydon right now.

    It should not be necessary, however, for gentrification to involved staggering house prices increases. Other countries have far larger and stronger rental sectors – some of them EU countries, I’m afraid, Nigel Hixon. In Germany, for example, it’s far more acceptable and normal for middle class families to rent and the fetish of ownership does not have such a hold. The price boom has had far less impact there.

    We have house price social cleansing across London. Areas now exist where only the wealthy or those who inherit will ever own property. Right now Croydon is still, just, the last affordable piece of our capital city for those on what most of us regard as normal range pay.

    Clearly we’re not going to stop being insane about housing any time soon in this country. ‘Affordable Croydon’ will most likely be lost as we gentrify and whilst there’s much about gentrification that I celebrate for the reasons given here, this process will have victims too. Unbridgeable gulfs between haves and have nots increase social instability. Noticing this, and minding about it rather than shrugging at its inevitability, isn’t moaning. It’s being aware of the vulnerabilities of others.

    • Mario Creatura

      Agree on many of your points Liz – but when does that ever change?!

      In my view the unbridgeable gulf can be bridged, but it comes from residents clubbing together to lobby or fix their areas themselves. One person has little time or inclination to do things but groups or streets that meet twice a year can divvy up the jobs and as many hands make light work, areas can improve in emotional connectivity. That helps to improve an area, and isn’t related to property prices.

      That’s an incredibly hard thing to facilitate, but in my view it’s something that the Council must facilitate. Giving guidance and facilitating the setting up of residents’ associations and neighbourhood watch groups (for eg) will give Councillors a kick and help new and innovative ideas to flow more readily into the Council for the betterment of the borough.

      Gentrification forces new passions into an area linked to income and the ideology of the people coming in. Perhaps if we were better at encouraging grassroots engagement then it would soften the potential social negatives that gentrification brings?

  • Liz Sheppard-Jones

    Why have I turned into a cupcake?!

    • cpmatthews

      The question on everybodies lips in Croydon right now :D

  • Anne Giles

    Fantastic article, Mario.

  • Wendy Mchugh

    Croydon is a great town but certainly has some different areas of income and diversity. I live in Shirley currently but used to live in West Croydon and to be honest really enjoyed living there with it’s diverse range of communities etc. Unfortunately, NOT just due to the riots, West Croydon seems to have become the “forgotten” part of Croydon especially by Croydon Council. The traders are really suffering due to lack of parking, rubbish dumped everywhere and the general “feel” of the area. There are betting shops everywhere as well as “Cash for Gold”, “Pawn Shops” etc etc which I personally feel brings the whole area down. There is certainly a feeling that the area is unsafe and unloved which is such a shame as Croydon as a whole has lots to offer.

    • Mario Creatura

      I couldn’t agree more Wendy. North Croydon is phenomenally exciting, with diversity at the heart of that. It’s complex, but the spate of fly-tipping can be directly attributed to the transience of the population. Time was that Croydon North had many residents living there for decades or more. It’s my understanding that due to an increase in rental accommodation and short-lease tenancies that busy folk or those not staying for more than a few years see no reason to take pride in their area. If you were only living in a place for a short period of time would you get to know your neighbours? Or join a residents group or become a school governor? Fly-tipping is caused by many factors, and the Council cleans the North regularly, but more needs to be done to create grassroots community engagement to try to attack the problems at its roots and not just blame the Council for not cleaning as fast as inconsiderate residents are dumping.

  • Terry Coleman

    Unless and until problems of flytipping and street crime are properly dealt with, Croydon is in great danger of becoming known for it’s putrification rather than any other fication you may care to mention.

    • Liz Sheppard-Jones

      When Broad Green becomes Millionaires’ Row once again they’ll clear it up, never fear. And all the crime will be white collar with the bill picked up by the plebs, so problem solved!

      • Terry Coleman

        And I’ve just spotted a squadron of piglets, about to take off from my garden fence!

      • Mario Creatura

        ‘They’ in my view will mean ‘the residents’ and will largely result from them ‘not letting it get that way in the first place’. This is directly related to community pride and social cohesion. The Council must help facilitate this but it’s best coming from the community themselves – if that happens then it’ll be long-lasting.

        • Terry Coleman

          I understand your bootstrapping argument, but the town will need to be seriously cleaned up before ‘gentry’ takes a second look at the place.

          • Mario Creatura

            Well with Saffron Square almost full, Menta seeming to take off, the new development to replace Taberner House etc the ‘gentry’ as you call them appear to be coming in their droves already!

          • Terry Coleman

            Appear being the operative word.

          • Mario Creatura

            Well Saffron Square is sold out and Berkeley Homes have just committed to building the tower several years earlier than planned – confidence in economic viability if nothing else.

    • Mario Creatura

      It’s very simplistic to think that fly-tipping and street crime are not the fault of the people that commit the fly-tipping and street crime. How would you ‘properly deal with’ it? Pour more money into cleaning up rubbish and the amount of rubbish dumped will increase (“If I thought the Council would leave it then I wouldn’t do it, but it saves me a trip to the dump so I’ll keep doing it!”). Don’t pour enough and the ‘broken window’ effect come in and people don’t feel ashamed at dumping. Fine balance but one which avoids the root cause – community cohesion and grassroots guilt, pressuring residents from residents to give a damn about their streets. Not an easy problem to solve.

      • Terry Coleman

        I never suggested that the problem was not the fault of those who create it. It’s a matter for the town council and the police to deal with it, in my opinion a jolly sight more robustly than they currently are.

  • Louis Akindele

    This article and some of the comments to support it are quite horrifying in their one eyed view of the changes which are taking place.
    The improvement of Croydon central and the borough as a whole can only be a good thing. On that we can agree. The current developments and future plans for Croydon are a fantastic process.
    Essentially it seems that the improvements in Croydon according to Mr Creatura and Cpmatthews are being made to draw in more outsiders. More desirable people. Those with more disposable income. The 16,000 new jobs will be mainly for ‘families to relocate to’ not for the poor and unemployed already in the borough. They will be forced outwards. To areas with lower rent. With worse facilities. With less jobs. To rebrand CPmatthews wording the rich will be the winners and the poor will be the losers.
    Perhaps Mr Creatura has forgotten that several years ago Croydon was one of those ‘outer’ areas. The gentrification of central London and areas like Clapham, Peckham and Balham forced many people further south. To Croydon. This artificial congregation of people with a lack of jobs, opportunities, hope and a deep sense of social injustice ultimately ended up leading to the Riots of 2011.
    Gentrification is not a cure of those problems. It is a movement of those problems elsewhere. A process of social cleansing, whether run by the government or not. If we do not take care to prevent this then those wealthy residents in their luxury Saffron Square apartments will be watching the 2018 riots unfolding on Sky news in other areas such as Dartford, Bexleyheath and Tunbridge Wells where the displaced poor of Croydon are being sent to.
    The improvement in Croydon should be in large part FOR the current residents of the borough. Not simply to appeal to those more desirable people priced out of central London living and forced to move southwards.

    • Mario Creatura

      Louis, you appear to have misunderstood what I am saying. Nowhere do I say that the 16,000 jobs will only be for people outside Croydon. On the contrary, I’m assured many of the 5-6,000 jobs just to build and run the Westfield/Hammerson centre will go primarily to local residents. Your assumption that there are no ‘desirable people’ (to use your incredibly damaging phraseology) is insensitive and negatively labels my fellow Croydon residents. The people of Croydon are very much desirable, so please stop insinuating otherwise.

      You’re right that deprivation has increased around the outer suburbs of London. This is because, as you rightly say, those previously deprived areas in the 70s and 80s have seen huge investment so that areas like Clapham, Brixton and Peckham are starting to gentrify. Crucially this is known as ‘relative deprivation’. Croydon is ‘relatively’ getting more deprived than suburbs closer to the centre but that’s only by comparison to the improvements that those areas are making whilst we are not. It does not necessarily mean that ‘deprived people are being pushed into Croydon’. This is possible but false logic in your current argument.

      Finally, please realise that thousands of people move in and out the
      borough each year. You seem to believe that there is a brick wall around Croydon and that gentrification after massive investment will somehow displace a third of our population and replace them with rich folk. This is untrue. People movement is fluid and already happening. We can’t stop it.

      The increased investment in Croydon town centre will trigger huge development across the borough. All current and future residents will benefit it, which is why in my piece I argue that we are all to blame for it to happen and it is unavoidable.

      • Louis Akindele

        Mario from your reply I am beginning to wonder if you truly understand what Gentrification means. I can clearly see in your article you have employed several rhetorical tricks in order to redefine the word. I didn’t think you truthfully believed the definition your article created. Perhaps I was wrong.
        Gentrification involves the improvement of an area. Yes. Gentrification involves an influx of wealthier people into an area, a consequence of it’s improvement. Yes. Gentrification also involves the displacement of lower income residents. This last and most important component of the definition you seem to ignore.
        Without the last part of the process taking place we would simply be talking about regeneration or renovation. If you wrote an article proclaiming how proud Croydon’s citizens should be about it’s REGENERATION. I would have no complaints.
        You say that your article is not a critique or defence of Gentrification. While at the same time claiming it is something that the residents of Croydon should be proud of. Surely you should only be proud of good things?
        Gentrification is a process which has occurred many times before. However it is not something to be proud of. It is a negative consequence for society.
        You also say that it is inevitable. I would like some evidence for this? What attempts have previously been made to temper the process of gentrification? What methods are Croydon Council employing to attempt to limit the harmful effects of this process?
        Finally you agree that gentrification has occurred more centrally across London but you claim Croydon is only a victim of ‘relative deprivation’. If this is so where did the displaced low income residents of Peckham, Brixton, Clapham etc relocate? Your own argument here contradicts itself.

  • moguloilman

    If gentrification means that Croydon becomes a better place to live, more jobs and better housing then I am all for it. As ever it is a question of balance but part of that gentrification will involve people moving, people moving in and people moving out.

    Will this change displace some poor people elsewhere? Yes, Will it bring some better off people into Croydon? Also yes. But what it will also do is provide job opportunities for the people here and make Croydon an all round better place to live. Some of the less well off will have their lives significantly improved and opportunities will be created for their children to do even better. The result is a reduction in deprivation overall.

    An irony: Those complaining about others (non-Croydonians – “immigrants” if you will) moving in, taking their jobs, etc are often on the left of the political spectrum, yet translate those same complaints to a national scale and it is those on the right making the same complaints. Can someone explain the inconsistency?

    • Mario Creatura

      You’re right that balance is important, but it’s important to note that thousands move out of an into the borough every year. Yet we ignore this in our mental image of how gentrification works. Something to bear in mind.

      Your second paragraph is spot on. Relative deprivation will go down in Croydon as whole areas improve. There are potential social issues, but they can be tackled by those communities working together to limit damage. The Council has a role to play in smoothing out those tensions.

      The inconsistency you point out is a fascinating one and points to a shared concern of the issues, but not of the solutions. Most people regardless of their political allegiance are worried about the economy, jobs, welfare, education etc. but they differ in how they’ll respond. Idealistic lefties will propose soclalistic solutions nationally but accept they won’t work on the ground and traditional conservatives will make sweeping generalisations nationally that they won’t apply to their own friends and neighbours out of practicality. That’s my view anyway!

  • andybrice

    “Gentrification is not something that a local authority or a particular political party can directly control.”

    But gentrification can easily turn into something more sinister if local government are complicit in allowing it to displace entire communities.

    By all means, encourage the construction of homes to bring new money into the area, but it’s vital to keep a good mix of affordable and social housing too.

    • Mario Creatura

      Entirely agree Andy. I was attempting to outline the case that local government have little control over gentrification of an area. If humanity is constantly striving to make their home areas better then gentrification is inevitable, which is what I believe is happening in Croydon. The riots may have been a catalyst for it, but that only further implies the grassroots element of the movement.

      • andybrice

        Interestingly, The City of London Corporation seems to understand this better than most local authorities. Despite the enormous wealth of the area, it has a very healthy social mix of residents.

        (I have been told that its social housing is protected by law, although I’ve so far been unable to find any further details about this.)