Gentrification is a phenomenon that is occurring in schemes all over Scotland (indeed the UK). It is a word that has been in use for many centuries but was brought to the fore in the early sixties by a sociologist who observed how middle class people moving into traditional working class areas, often displaced the very poor. Regardless of opinion, it always signifies a change in the makeup of a local community when low-income housing is ether demolished and/or refurbished and wealthier people begin to move into the neighbourhood. Usually, what occurs (at least in schemes) is that poor income families (and “problem” ones) are relocated to make way for the middle (sometime called “educated”) classes. There is often widespread building work and community regeneration of shops, businesses and parks. All of the above is happening and has happened to Niddrie over the last decade. Of course, there is much more to say on this – but this is the bottom line (I want to write a few posts on the topic in the coming months).
I am left in little doubt that the vast majority of working class people, small business owners and the local authorities view the process as a good and healthy thing. It is often associated with “weeding out” the inherent social problems and “lifting up” the area in which it occurs. Much can be said about this topic (and I will blog more on this – I promise) but I just wanted to point out a few good and bad points to the gentrification of our housing schemes.
1. Good. If you own your own home and your housing prices go up as the area improves.
2. Bad. If you don’t own your own home and you have to move out of a place you have lived for generations to make way for developers. It appears that gentrification might just make the poor poorer! (surprise surprise)
3. Good. If you are a local business because new people and redevelopment attract new consumers.
4. Good. If you are involved in the building industry (for obvious reasons).
5. Good. If you have been plagued by “problem people” and “drug houses” which are being removed from the area.
6. Bad. If it means that the new middle class bring with them their individualism and personal materialism.
7. Bad. If you are a church (like ours) that saw huge swathes of local children in their Sunday schools diminish to nothing as people are relocated.
8. Good. Skills and a growing work ethic return to the community.
9. Bad. The community is destroyed by those who move in as first time buyers and have no communal interest other than securing their foot on the property ladder and moving on and “up” as soon as possible.
10. Bad. for those who would like to own their own home but can’t because of ridiculously high property prices (and rentals).
11.Good. If you are a landlord for the reasons stated above.
So, is this process good or bad for Niddrie? Well, at this stage it is difficult to tell. Niddrie is certainly a quieter place than it once was. A safer place? Not particularly. The new people moving in are suspicious of the locals and vice-versa. It has enhanced a divide that has always been there but now it is on their doorstep. A guy watching a young family move into a £200K house on the site of where his pals used to live is not best pleased about it. Of course, the wealthy move in and are huddled together, marked out by their shiny new homes and a target for many. On the other hand, there is a renewed sense of pride about the place. The arts are going strong and there is still a good community vibe. There have been a couple of locals who have started businesses and are doing well for themselves thanks to community grants but this is an experiment in social engineering that will be measured in another 10 years. At the moment the “indigenous” community (those that are left) are going along with it (they have to) and new people are tentatively moving in. How (and if) we move toward communal synergism will be the interesting thing.
What can we as a local church do about it? A discussion for another day. Blessings. All (serious) comments will be appreciated.