(please forgive any oversimplifications or generalizations of stuff and things due to space constraints)
The “Last Days of Shoreditch” have arrived, according to street artist Ben Eine (pronounced like benign). Shoreditch and the famous road Brick Lane have been homes to Jewish and South Asian communities, most prominently the Bangladeshi community, since the 1950’s, and, moreover, they also boast the richest collection of street art anywhere in London. Unfortunately, these areas are dying due to the arrival of entrepreneurs who take advantage of the cheap property value to open unique independent businesses such as cat cafes, cereal stores, and expensive chocolate stores. They clean up a bit, attract upper-middle class consumers to help their businesses grow, and, when they succeed, the area is more promising for other entrepreneurs who want to open up new businesses. One section of Shoreditch has developed such promising businesses that it is even proclaimed to be London’s Silicon Valley. Soon rows of chic modern stores line the newly renovated streets, and tourists flock to clog the sidewalks and streets with their clueless and careless standing around.
Except for the tourists, it might not sound so bad, but hence arises the controversy surrounding gentrification. What many people either ignore or don’t understand is that this renovation and commercialization of poorer areas, particularly those that house immigrant communities, comes with a severe tradeoff: you end up shoving these communities out of their homes and closing their own businesses by making it too expensive for them to live. Where are they supposed to go?
Gentrification is the cause of the “Last Days of Shoreditch,” and it is evident all throughout Shoreditch and Brick Lane. Where once stood Jewish and Bangladeshi homes and businesses, now fancy stores rear their flat, black-painted fronts (the black paint is to deter street art, because it’s easier to clean off). Immigrant families who can still afford to own businesses in the area are forced to live in the far outskirts of London (like Zone 6, if you look at a TFL map and find it means anything to you) because the residential rooms on the floors above their businesses are now too expensive for them to rent, and food is no longer so affordable (unless you’re a fool and consider a £5.50, or $7+, bowl of cereal cheap—for real, ‘Cereal Killer Cafe’ is a tourist-attracting cereal cafe, and, although it’s cool and prosperous, such an expensive bowl of cereal really messes with the economy). Along one stretch of Brick Lane, the only evidence of its former Bangladeshi community is a single Muslim trust company. It was closed.
The street artists, however, fight against the rush of entrepreneurs and ensuing gentrification. They paint murals on the sides of buildings (not unlike the murals in Philadelphia) whether they’re appreciated or not, they place little mushrooms on top of buildings, and, along walls beside the streets, they reflect the culture and opinions of the South Asian communities. If opposed by the black-painted buildings of newer businesses, they find other surfaces to paint on, such as little pieces of flattened gum on the sidewalk. Via their art, they ensure that, despite the growing presence of wealthy businesses, the South Asian presence in Shoreditch and Brick Lane will not be forgotten to capitalism and gentrification.