For the longest time, Shoreditch – the part of London just north of the City financial district – was run down and underdeveloped. It was perhaps one of the few places in central London that normal, working class people, might live. But then in the 1990s and continuing through the first decade of this millennium the population changed considerably: the hipsters arrived.
Shoreditch quickly became a by-word for the achingly trendy: handlebar moustaches, weird ‘art’ projects, high-concept bars and internet start-ups with weird names. In 2005 it was captured perfectly in the sitcom Nathan Barley as the sort of place that if you were there, you’d probably want to punch everyone… but perhaps also secretly want to be a part of (maybe that’s just me?).
Fuelling the gentrification was a booming tech industry. Many of the technology companies we rely on today have roots in the area – such as last.fm and Songkick. The roundabout that sat above Old Street tube station became known as Britain’s “Silicon Roundabout”, in a nod towards San Francisco’s Silicon Valley.
With these changes, the demographics of the area also changed as people who could make websites and possessed phenomenal bullshitting skills needed places to live and work.
But now, it seems… things are changing again. The gentrifiers have become the gentrified.
A group of campaigners from the area’s tech start-up scene have launched a campaign called “Save Tech City” – protesting plans to develop Bishopsgate Goods Yard, one of the few remaining “brownfield” sites in the area.
What’s astonishing is just how stunningly unsympathetic the people in the video are. Check out the campaign video, in which start-up entrepreneurs complain about the incoming luxury flats and offices, that are out of keeping with the spirit of the area:
It’s remarkably irony-free for a suburb of London that almost uses irony as a fiat currency in its art “spaces”. I can’t work out if my favourite bit is the man who complains about the “colonisation of Shoreditch” or the guy who explains what is nice about Shoreditch is the diversity. There’s everyone from “big banks like UBS to Bitcoin start ups”, apparently. Can you really bear living in a world where this is arguably less likely to happen?
What is true about the proposed development is that it is London does have a big property problem. As has been well reported, and anyone who lives in the city will agree, there simply aren’t enough homes: and many of those that are being built are being sold overseas to rich investors rather than as either “affordable” housing or at least to people who will actually live in them. So the development doesn’t seem as though it will be particularly useful in helping fix this problem… but really, are the “Tech City” start-ups the best people to campaign against it?
Besides, everyone knows that Peckham is the new Shoreditch, right?
By James O'Malley | July 30th, 2014