Shoreditch think Surry Hills here in Sydney, or my dear Newtown where … cringe.. I live in a converted warehouse. here are a couple of points of view about the gentrification of our inner city burbs
In the 1990s, creative types-think edgy contemporary artists (Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst, et al) and forward-thinking design and media geeks-once again moved into Shoreditch, drawn by the urban-grunge vibes, the multiculturalism, and the cheap rents. They transformed Shoreditch’s aging industrial buildings into funky lofts, open-plan offices, and buzzing nightclubs. These days, now that it’s the city’s ground zero of artsy urban cool, it’s certainly not a low-rent district, though if you know where to look, you can still source cheap (and tasty) Pakistani eats or lift a glass in dives from days past.
If you want the full-on Shoreditch experience, then kick things off by checking into the oh-so with-it Hoxton Hotel. This hip property housed in a refurbished parking garage dubs itself “luxury where it matters, budget where it counts,” and offers all the savvy design features and cool scene an up-and-coming artist or media mogul could hope for. Alternatively, for a more low-key connection with the Shoreditch in-crowd, brunch or lunch among media and design types at airy Café Albion (in the stylishBoundary hotel), where the mash-up of vintage eats (like Cornish pasties and Welsh rarebit) and fashionably organic ingredients has made this a destination for foodies and hipsters alike.
It’s not particularly clever or novel to hate Shoreditch.
In fact, I’m sure if you spoke to half the people on the streets of Shoreditch, they’d tell you that they hate Shoreditch and are only there as some sort of ironic exercise in nostalgia slumming.
But bear with me here. What I hate more than Shoreditch itself is the idea of Shoreditch and the way that so many of London’s neighbourhoods have been Shoreditched, are being Shoreditched or will be Shoreditched.
Of course, I do hate Shoreditch in the straightforward, obvious way too. I hate the stupid beards and skinny jeans. I hate the “dirty burgers” and the knowing appropriation of 1980s icons that were never any good to begin with. I hate the fact that every venue looks the same. And I wish every single hipsterpreneur who dreams of opening a pop-up restaurant (backed by Pop’s money) would just pop off.
But, as I say, Shoreditch is just a metonym for all those unlucky pieces of real estate that have had the hipster formula applied to them. The real problem is hipsters themselves. That global tribe of urban 20- and 30-somethings who, in their quest to be different, have wound up virtually identical. Go into any hipster venue and you’ll see. From the microbrewery ales and ironically-drunk mass-market lagers to upcycled furniture and jumble-sale ’70s suburban art, they’re all cool by numbers. The people dress the same, they eat the same and the conversations sound the same.
Shoreditch is a formula, a brand. It’s as much a part of mainstream consumer culture as iPhones and Sky TV and as global as Starbucks. So, let’s look at how an area gets Shoreditched.
You find a previously unnoticed urban neighbourhood, ideally one that’s a bit down on its luck. Pioneer hipsters move in and coolhunters ensure it starts trending on Twitter. A year later, the mainstream media notices and, for the next 12 months, the neighbourhood is byword for urban cool. Soon property prices soar pushing the original residents out, the bankers (always a trailing indicator) begin to move in and a Foxtons opens. Finally, the New York Times runs a piece in which it “discovers” the area and the cycle is complete. The last hipsters move on and find a new neighbourhood to play with.
This is where poor Shoreditch finds itself now. Its alternative crown was lost years ago to Dalston which, in turn, had it snatched by Peckham. If you head to Shoreditch on a Saturday evening these days it really is as “bridge and tunnel” as its detractors (and one-time champions) claim. A roiling, boiling mass of fight-ready designer-labelled out-of-towners smashed on sugary cocktails and bad cocaine, a cold-climate Ayia Napa. Notting Hill doesn’t know how lucky it is to have merely become a ghetto for bankers.
Of course, you could argue that being Shoreditched is nothing new, that it’s just a hip form of gentrification. In the early noughties, the American urbanist Richard Florida coined the phrase “the Creative Class” to describe the young, trendy and creative who regenerated previously run-down inner city areas. But what Florida missed was the relentless churn and accelerated neophilia of Shoreditch-style gentrification. The gap between Notting Hill and Shoreditch was a decade. The gap between Shoreditch and Dalston, a couple of years. Peckham was declared pretty much over before the first Korean taco van had a chance to park.
Now, the bearded seers of gentrification are turning their gaze to Crystal Palace and Streatham, Walthamstow and Tottenham. Doubtless these suburban nowheres will have their six months in the sun before they’re chewed up and forgotten, with only a few boarded-up “dirty food” restaurants and doubled house prices to remind residents that, sometime in the mid 2010s, they were written about (then sneered at) by Vice journalists. A few weeks back, I heard someone joking about Croydon being the next hipster destination and found myself a) thinking that it really could happen and b) wondering if pop-up KFCs could become “a thing”.
So, what is the solution? The solution is to treat places like proper neighbourhoods rather than Apple products with a two-year upgrade cycle. Here I hold up Camden as an example. OK, I know I have a vested interest, but Camden was cool in 1994 (and even 1984) and it’s still cool in 2014. It has, dare I say it, sustainable coolness. True, at no point in time will be it be as achingly “now” as a speakeasy in a repurposed public loo in Camberwell selling dirty cocktails in jam jars, but that’s the point. Sustainable cool knows which bandwagons to ignore.
So, what is the special sauce that makes sustainable coolness? The answer is in one neighbourhood that has managed to go from nothing to something that’s still cool 15 years later. This is the London Bridge area – and, like Camden, it has a unique attraction: Borough Market. And herein lies a lesson. The people that set up the retail market in the 90s did so when the area was a dump, the ancient wholesale market was in decline and Jamie Oliver was a sous chef. Although Borough Market in its current incarnation seems to have appeared, fully formed, sometime around 2003, it took ten years of dedicated hard work, most of it with no obvious reward, to get it to that point.
True, it’s is a lot harder than getting 10,000 Twitter followers for your pop-up cold-war-themed speakeasy. But people will still be coming to SE1 and NW1 in 2024. Whereas the hipsters will be down in Croydon (AKA Shoreditch 6.0), Instagramming pictures of McDonald’s cartons and wondering if that lairy-looking group of blokes are the most ironic dressers ever or a group of local chavs about to beat them up very unironically.
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