This blog is part of the research output for my PhD which looks at the regeneration of Deptford and how people, who have been living and/or been involved in community work here for some time, experience these changes. The regeneration of Deptford is part of the whole reconfiguration of London (and other national and international cities) that seeks to transform cities into spaces for the wealthy who can afford to live in the luxury residencies that are being erected all over the city. The destruction of council housing, the breaking up of communities, and the loss of green and community spaces goes hand in hand with austerity measures, welfare cuts and the vilification of poor people in the media. These measures, together with increasing levels of plutocratic capital flowing through London, have resulted in the production of spatial and social inequalities akin to Victorian times. Homelessness, overcrowding, poor quality housing and unaffordable rents (as well as a rise in social isolation, mental health issues, an increased use of foodbanks, and many other issues) are part of the every-day life experience of the most marginalised. However, with extortionate property prices and many redevelopments and eviction notices pending, many others, who in the past might have had a more secure future, now live in a constant state of anxiety: Is our block on the cards for demolition? Is my landlord increasing the rent to market value? When will the letter arrive that announces the demolition date of my home? Will I get like for like? How much longer can I afford to live in Deptford? Will I be able to live near my community networks? How do I explain to my grandson that there’s no point in refurbishing his bedroom?
These are some of the issues that have come up time and again since starting this research in October 2017. What I have also found are the incredibly strong community networks and friendships, noticeable in the volume of amazing volunteering work and joint campaigning that takes place in this area. Another thing that has become apparent is that people are not anti-regeneration or against progress – far from it! What people are against is their communities not being considered or consulted but instead being broken up. They are against the kind of change that caters for the desires of a certain population and not for the needs of others; the kind of change that is solely powered by capital and big profits; the kind of change that leads to social polarisation and inequality. There is no housing crisis or shortage. The current crisis is a shortage of truly affordable homes and of the political drive for social justice.
The research is also looking at the role of the arts and creative industries in regeneration processes. The instrumentalisation of the arts and cultural industries since the 1990s, and the co-opting of artists’ work into regeneration schemes, has contributed towards increased property prices by creating enclaves of creativity, and making urban space for the wealthy who are attracted to the new artistic quarters of the city. The instrumentalisation of participatory and community arts, a practice stemming from a radical tradition to fight for social justice that also has a long history in Deptford, has enabled arts and capital-led regeneration projects that have very little do with tackling social exclusion and a lot with generating economic gain for the more privileged. The presence of artists in Deptford is nothing new, but the rebranding of Deptford as a new artistic quarter will eventually push the existing artists that have helped make Deptford what it is today out of the area, unable to afford the high rents of flats and studio spaces.
The impact of these regeneration processes is not unique to Deptford; this is happening all over London, but being a resident in this area, this research seeks to provide an account of the impact of these processes at the scale of neighbourhood experience in Deptford. My practice-based PhD is a collaboration with local residents, artists and campaigners working on a grassroots community arts project that aims to bring to the fore the personal stories of living under a neoliberal urbanism through images and texts produced with and by participants. It works with people of a variety of ages and ethnic backgrounds who are experiencing struggles and inequalities on economic, social and cultural levels. The research involves interviews, workshops, walks and various art practices with participants encouraged to produce their own responses which will be published here. The blog acts as a platform to bring together those experiences. The participants’ experience or views do not necessarily reflect my own.
If you have any questions about this research, please contact me on: Anita.Strasser@gold.ac.uk