This blog is part of the research output for my PhD in Visual Sociology (at Goldsmiths) 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, including myself, who in the past might have had a more secure future, now also 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 researching and working with local communities in the area since 2009 and since starting this research project 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. This research seeks to create a counter-narrative to the misrepresentation and vilification of poorer people who cannot (or are unwilling to) participate in gentrification culture and who are fighting for an alternative to this neoliberal urbanism.
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. Participatory and community arts is a practice stemming from a radical tradition to fight for social justice, and has a long history in Deptford. Rock Against Racism concerts in the Albany Theatre, squatting movements to highlight the contradiction between homelessness and abundant properties, community arts and activism involving mural painting, photography, printing, festivals, newsletters and other activities to communicate the struggles of marginalised communities, as well as Shaka sound system dances to provide an alternative space for black Londoners are all examples of a DIY Punk Activism that has contributed to fighting against social inequality in the past. These benefits have been co-opted into arts and capital-led regeneration schemes by using participation and community as convenient add-ons for projects that actually 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. This research seeks to return to the more radical tradition of DIY community arts by working with local residents and artists to create creative and critical responses to the gentrification of Deptford. It invites contributions from residents who are experiencing the produced inequalities of regeneration in Deptford and provides a platform where these people have a voice. The posts on this blog are a collaborative effort with both texts and images co-produced in dialogue with participants.
The views and experiences expressed on this platform are not necessarily my own.
This research is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).
If you have any questions about this research, please contact me on: Anita.Strasser@gold.ac.uk