Sunday 13 January 2013

Dalston RIP? It's so not over!

"Dalston RIP" was the title of Alex Rayner's playful piece about Dalston in the Evening Standard Magazine last Friday. He picks up the story around 2009 with the arrival of the trending fashionistas when they, and later Italian Vogue, discovered Dalston. He describes the second wave - their followers and barflies. Finally he settles on Dalston's Gentrification. Has Dalston finally hit estate agents' G-Spot? "Are reports of Dalston's demise premature?" he asks teasingly. Have rising house prices "killed Dalston or just made it stronger?"

Gentrification, in the traditional sense, started in Dalston two and more decades ago. Colonisation by the aspiring middle class, restoration of its Victorian villas, the slow and incremental burnishing of its tarnished elegance and reputation. Occupation of Dalston's redundant factories and warehouses as cheap studio space by artists, designers and musicians had turned Dalston into a vibrant hub of creative industries.

But traditional gentrification is not what we have been witnessing in Dalston recently. It is the outcome of a newer formula for urban renewal."Regeneration". Top down, publically financed corportate solutions, monopoly "inward investment", boxes to be ticked, performance targets to be achieved, consultants to be paid, units to be built, 20% returns on investment to be made. Their vision from above, from afar, about "what's good for Dalston". Not forgetting what's good for them. Demolition and replacement rather than renewal and re-use. Monoculture. Loss of diversity. Mediated by politicians and the developers' PR companies who often employ them.

Dalston RIP? Despite "Regeneration" Dalston is very much alive. Just look at the vibrancy of our local economy in this age of austerity - Ridley Road market, social enterprises, Vortex Jazz, Cafe Oto, Eastern Curve Garden, Arcola Theatre, Passing Clouds, Rio Cinema, our art galleries,  our independent businesses,  retailers, cafes and coffee shops, to name but a few. These are examples of bottom up, sustainable micro-regeneration. The list keeps growing.

Dalston is not only alive, we're still kicking. We're fighting for a better deal for our community. A proper say in our and our children's future. More public green space, more affordable housing and more protection of our local heritage. We're fighting to keep our local character and identity.

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