Hackney has recently attracted a vitriol usually reserved for Tory politicians and paedophiles. Until lately, the area was famed for warring estates and knife crime, but now Hackney is widely perceived as embodying the worst aspects of gentrification. Vintage boutiques, French-style cafés and pop-up art galleries adorn the streets, and you are never more than six feet away from a babyccino. Nowhere are Britain’s ever-rising levels of inequality and lack of social mobility more evidently pronounced.
The central problem is that house prices in Hackney and the rest of London are going up. This is pricing out the locals, but compared to similar areas, Hackney is still relatively cheap. This means that young professionals who can no longer afford the inner City have been moving in en masse, with their university degrees and penchant for artisan sourdough loaves, and friction with the local working class population is inevitable.
On the one hand, in Hackney you are confronted with some of the worst poverty in the UK. It is no longer ‘murder mile’: the levels of serious crime are much lower than they were a few years ago. However, the murders, suicides, muggings and gang-related violence continue to happen on a daily basis. Schizophrenia and delusional disorders are five times the national average, the rate of people citing mental health conditions for being unable to work is amongst the highest in the country, and a large proportion of children is going to school hungry. Hackney also recently came top in the national ‘cuts per person’ league: a £266.17 cut per person from 2010-11 to 2012-13, four times as much as the rest of the UK.
On the other hand, everywhere you turn there are graphic designers with too much facial hair and girls dressed up like pin-ups from the 1950’s, sipping soya lattes while loudly extolling the benefits of a plant-based diet, and talking about the latest independent film they’ve been working on. In Dalston, pissed-up hipsters on a night out have been causing friction by taking dumps in local residents’ gardens. Everyone is either working, or trying to work, in ‘the media’, would define themselves as ‘creative’, and is trying really hard not to be the girl in Common People. Even if you are lucky enough to be one of these people, chances are you will be so enveloped in clouds of self-hatred and middle-class guilt that you won’t be enjoying your privilege half as much as you should be.
Your bus journey home is just as likely to be disturbed by a stabbing, a local religious fanatic informing you that you will go to hell because of drinking, smoking and pre-marital sex, or by a jaded yuppie sitting behind you, trying to convince their friends that they ‘deserve’ the right to do huge amounts of cocaine every weekend, because they work so hard.
Ultimately, the transport is slow, the rent isn’t actually all that cheap, and everyone is sick to death of talking about the perils of gentrification. But Hackney these days is too much of an easy target: the parks are beautiful, the area’s history is incredibly rich, it’s one of the most culturally diverse boroughs in the country and, at the moment, there is nowhere I would rather live.
Kathryn also took all the superb photos on this post. She runs a blog called: stuffwhitebritslike.co.uk
An elevating story
When I lived in a new build-block of flats in Dalston someone took to relieving themselves in the lift. I moved back to SE London. Far more civilised. (Apart from the time a crack addict took a shit in alley outside the house)