I suppose this is something I am bound to have to weather in years to come once I am published academically and people have the chance to interpret (and misinterpret) my work, but this morning’s surprise came as an unwelcome little shock. I discovered that I have been held up as a figure for abuse in a newsletter distributed in my neighborhood by Islington International Working Class Action.
When the latest edition of the “Mildmay and Highbury Independent” landed on my doorstep (not yet available online) I thought I would give it a read. I wouldn’t say I am completely ideologically aligned with them but I have some sympathy with their regular diet of stories of poorly maintained public housing and council property sell-offs that don’t result in significant benefits for the borough’s substantial population of working class people. I turned the page and found an article entitled “Gentrification: is it good for you?” following on from a recent Guardian article which pointed out the benefits of the restoration of a local park (that I had some part in) but also quoted some residents who felt they had not benefited from the changes. And there, to my distress, I read the following:
“Mr Brake has made it very clear which kind of ‘regeneration’ he wants to see. His website announces triumphantly that the: ‘Gentrification of Newington Green proceeds apace’… For Mr Brake the arrival of ‘a genuine French patisserie, several restaurants and a vegetarian deli’ is proof that ‘the benefits will be felt by all who live here for generations to come.”
Well I was a little baffled. None of this sounded like anything I had written on the official NGAG website (which is rather out of date now that I am no longer press officer). And indeed I hadn’t written anything like that in my official capacity. Then I went back through the archives of this blog and discovered that the quotes had been pulled from here – from this post and this one. Of course the quotes were selective and the author of this particular hatchet job hadn’t bothered to call me up and try to find out my actual views.
I don’t know whether having read my words through their own ideological lenses they felt they knew what I would say or whether they simply wanted to use me as a sort of punching bag and were deliberately misquoting me but whichever the reason the result was quite irritating. All the more so because actually I do agree with the author to some extent about the issues s/he was trying to raise.
So to be clear about what I think I have observed that Newington Green is gentrifying but with decidedly mixed emotions. I personally enjoy the arrival of the local patisserie and deli, which (it must be said) have not come at the expense of any authentically working class amenities that I am aware of. What I campaigned for and helped to achieve, however was the cleaning up of the Green itself, which has been turned into a proper park at last and my intention was that that green space used by everyone (not the restaurants) would provide the “benefits for all who live here” alluded to earlier.
I am uncomfortably aware that improvements to an area like this one can lead to gentrification which may alienate working class people but I would regret it if this did happen and indeed as long as the numerous council estates in this area remain it seems unlikely that working class people would be “driven out” as the author warns may happen. It is difficult, however, to see what the alternative is. Should we have left the green as an overgrown traffic roundabout to protect the neighborhood from gentrification? Shades of “we had to destroy the village in order to save it”!
At any rate had I been approached I would have had some sympathy with the author and could have helped them with their piece – as it is (like all too many groups on the left) their rigid ideological stance has lost them a potential supporter.