London’s Protest Stickers: Gentrification

05-05-15 Walworth Road (2)

This sign in Elephant and Castle looked so official that I didn’t realise it had a political message at first (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Walworth Road, 05/05/15).

Gentrification is a process that has occurred in many Western cities over the last few decades. Poor, run-down, often post-industrial inner city neighbourhoods become cool, leading to an influx of the middle and upper classes which pushes up house prices and drives out the original community. London is no exception, and there are many areas around the city where there are tensions between existing residents and newcomers. This is reflected in the city’s protest stickers, some of which object to gentrification. Gentrification in London is impossible to separate from the city’s housing issues; it is one of the contributing factors to the ridiculously high rents and lack of suitable housing in the capital.

Most of the stickers featured here are produced by Class War, a political group known for their aggressive and confrontational stance. You can see where I found each of these stickers, and all of the others featured on Turbulent London, on the Turbulent London Map.

28-06-18 Hector Gwynne

Critics of gentrification often use ‘cleansing’ to describe what happens to the original residents of gentrifying areas. They are forced out  by increasing house prices, or because the neighbourhood changes so much that they no longer feel comfortable there (Photo: Hector Gwynne, 28/06/18).

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There is a clear class dynamic to gentrification. Incomers tend to be middle or upper class, whilst those forced out are frequently working class (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Gordon Street, 13/04/16).

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Class War is not a group known for its tact. Yuppies and Hipsters are two groups frequently associated with gentrification, hipsters especially in London (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Quaker Street, 13/02/16).

20-05-15 Regent's Canal Towpath Islington-Camden (16)

The design of this sticker is adapting the cover of Metallica’s 1983 debut album Kill ‘Em All. (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Regent’s Canal Towpath, 20/05/15).

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Whilst this sticker doesn’t explicitly mention gentrification, Squatters and Homeless Autonomy is a group that tries to combat gentrification and establish autonomous anti-capitalist spaces in London (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Little Venice, 01/05/16).

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Housing estates are quite strongly associated with the working class. In London however, a lot of ex-council housing on estates have become unaffordable for the city’s working classes (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Cable Street, 09/10/16).

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Estate agents are often targeted for their role in the gentrification process. This sticker is promoting a protest outside of the Islington branch of Foxton’s, a large national chain (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Whitechapel High Street, 09/10/16).

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Again this sticker doesn’t explicitly mention gentrification, but it is a criticism of the high cost of living often associated with gentrification. The text is in French, and it translates to “Rent or Eat,” which is a stark choice faced by many Londoners (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Brick Lane, 13/02/16).

Fairbnb? Ethical Conference Accommodation

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‘Shotgun’ houses in New Orlean’s French District, which I visited for the 2018 Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers. International conferences can be an opportunity to visit some wonderful places, but do we need to be more critical of our contribution to problems with tourism in those places? (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

In April I attended the 2018 Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers (AAG) in New Orleans. In July I will be going to the International Conference of Historical Geographers in Warsaw. I am lucky that my career gives me so many opportunities to travel, but it does come with downsides. As an early career researcher, I have to fund many of the conferences I attend myself (whether I should or not is perhaps a conversation for another day). As such, I need affordable accommodation, which can be very difficult to find. Increasingly, people are turning to Airbnb and other short stay accommodation platforms in order to help manage the costs of conference attendance. However, opposition to websites such as Airbnb is growing, supported by arguments that it drives gentrification and negatively affects local communities. Geographers have frequent discussions about the environmental implications of flying to international conferences. Perhaps we should also be discussing the ethical implications of what we do once our flights land?

I have always wanted to visit New Orleans, and I loved getting the chance to explore the city whilst I was there. However, a huge number of tourists visit the city every year, and there were several occasions where I felt uncomfortable about the impact of this vast influx that I was part of. In 2016, the number of tourists visiting New Orleans reached 10.45 million, the highest they had been since before Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in 2005 (FQBA, 2017). This is compared to a permanent population of about 400,000 (Nola.com, 2018). Whilst this undoubtedly has benefits, not least the $7.41 billion spent by tourists in the city in 2016, it also brings challenges.

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An anti-AirBnB sign outside a house in the Treme district of New Orleans, a historically black neighbourhood made popular by an HBO television series. 6% of the houses in Treme have a short-term rental licence (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

One of the most hotly debated issues of tourism recently has been the rise of short stay accommodation websites such as AirBnB. They have been blamed for rapid increases in rents and house prices in popular tourist destinations; a recent article for the Independent blamed AirBnB for 23% rent increases over three years in some parts of Barcelona, a city which has seen an increasing backlash against mass tourism in recent years (Bryant, 2018). Short stay accommodations have also been criticised for damaging local communities, in a number of ways: it is difficult to get to know your neighbours if they are changing once a week; businesses cater to the needs of tourists rather than residents (souvenir shops replace supermarkets); and tourists on their holidays tend to be louder and more raucous than locals that have to get up for work the next day. AirBnB argue that short term rentals have a negligible effect on the housing market and provide a valuable opportunity for people to make money from their spare rooms. The fact remains, however, that many short term rentals are for the whole property, and some ‘hosts’ own and rent out multiple properties.

This new kind of Airbnb-powered gentrification comes with all the downsides of traditional gentrification — home prices and rents are going up, lower-income residents and people of color are moving out — but with fewer upsides. Tourism and gentrification typically bring cleaner streets and less crime, but tourists don’t stick around to clean up the neighborhood, vote in local elections or lobby for better schools.

The Lens, 2017

There have been various attempts to fight back against the damaging impact of short term rentals around the world. Some resistance is legislative. For example, in October 2016 it was made illegal in New York City to rent out flats for less than 30 days (Ashley Carmen, 2017). AirBnB often opposes such measures, however; they attempted to sue New York City for passing the law, eventually backing down on the condition that only hosts would be held liable, not AirBnB itself (Benner, 2016). Different cities have different levels of restrictions on short stay accommodation, and enforcement also varies, so it is not necessarily an effective response.

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The Inside Airbnb map for New Orleans. Red dots represent entire properties, green ones represent single rooms (Source: Inside Airbnb).

Inside Airbnb is a not-for-profit organisation that provides tools and data for analysing the impact of Airbnb on housing markets. The data is publicly available from Airbnb, and you can either use the tools provided by the website or download the data and analyse it yourself. Data isn’t available for every city in the world, but quite a few are covered, particularly in Europe and North America. Inside Airbnb is a kind of ‘knowledge is power’ form of resistance to short stay accommodation; such data can make arguments about the negative impacts of Airbnb and other similar platforms more persuasive.

Others are taking an ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ approach. Fairbnb is a group attempting to build an ethical short stay accommodation platform based on four main principles: collective ownership, democratic governance, social sustainability, and transparency and accountability (Fairbnb, n.d.). Part of the profits will be reinvested into local projects that counter the negative impacts of tourism and gentrification. There is no launch date for the platform at the moment however, so it might be a while before it gets off the ground, if it ever does.

So where do we as academics fit into all this? Geographers in particular are supposed to have an awareness of our own impact on the world around us, and take ethical considerations into account as a result. Some universities (including Royal Holloway, where I did my PhD) do not allow staff and students travelling on university business to use Airbnb. This is not out of a sense of social responsibility, but because Airbnb do not enforce sufficient health and safety requirements (Royal Holloway, 2017). For those of us who are self-funded, or who’s funding allows the use of Airbnb, it can be an enticingly cheap option. Perhaps we should think twice about this in future.

 

Sources and Further Reading

Benner, Katie. “Airbnb Ends Fight with New York City Over Fines.” The New York Times. Last modified 3rd December 2016, accessed 16th May 2018. Available at  https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/03/technology/airbnb-ends-fight-with-new-york-city-over-fines.html 

Bryant, Jackie. “What Not to do in Barcelona as a Tourist.” Independent. Last modified 30th April 2018, accessed 16th May 2018. Available at https://www.independent.co.uk/travel/europe/barcelona-travel-what-not-to-do-rules-laws-tourists-protests-overtourism-visitors-a8329086.html

Carmen, Ashley. “New York City Issues First Illegal Airbnb Fines.” The Verge. Last modified 7th February 2017, accessed 16th May 2018. Available at  https://www.theverge.com/2017/2/7/14532388/nyc-airbnb-first-illegal-renting-fines-issued

The Lens. “How AirBnB is Pushing Locals Out of New Orleans’ Coolest Neighbourhoods.” Huffington Post. Last modified 30th October 2017, accessed 16th May 2018. Available at https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/airbnb-new-orleans-housing_us_59f33054e4b03cd20b811699

van der Zee, Renate. “The ‘Airbnb Effect’: Is it Real, and What is it Doing to a City Like Amsterdam?” The Guardian. Last modified 6th October 2016, accessed 16 May 2018. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/oct/06/the-airbnb-effect-amsterdam-fairbnb-property-prices-communities

Protest Stickers: London Road, Brighton

Like most other cities, stickers of all kinds are a common sight on the streets of Brighton.

Like most other cities, stickers of all kinds are a common sight on the streets of Brighton (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Brighton is a coastal city in the south of England, about an hour away from London by train. It is well known for being an open and accepting city, and it also happens to be my home town, so it’s very special to me. I have written about protest and dissent in Brighton on Turbulent London before, but the city also has an awful lot of protest stickers so I think it deserves (at least) one more post. I took the pictures featured here on a walk down a single (admittedly quite long) road in the city. London Road runs from the city centre to the outskirts in the direction of London, funnily enough. Quite run down when I was younger, the area along the road is going through a rapid process of gentrification, to the extent that is known by some as the Shoreditch of Brighton. Gentrification is frequently a contested process however, and London Road has no shortage of protest stickers.

This is a tile stuck to the wall of a Greggs bakery, so not technically a protest sticker, but I couldn't resist putting it in because I like it so much. London Road is changing rapidly, and not everyone supports the changes.

This is a tile stuck to the wall of a Greggs bakery, so not technically a protest sticker, but I couldn’t resist putting it in because I like it so much. London Road is changing rapidly, and not everyone supports the changes (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Le Turnip produces quite a few satirical stickers, and I have featured some of them before on the blog. This one apes CCTV warning signs, but refers to Sauron, the personification of evil in the Lord of the Rings. Sauron's eye sits atop a huge tower, and can see everything that goes on in Middle Earth.

Le Turnip produces quite a few satirical stickers, and I have featured some of them before on the blog. This one apes CCTV warning signs, but refers to Sauron, the personification of evil in the Lord of the Rings. Sauron’s eye sits atop a huge tower, and can see everything that goes on in Middle Earth (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Many of the issues protested in London Road stickers are similar to those in London. This striking sticker criticises the reliance of the state on police forces. Brighton generally has an anti-authoritarian vibe.

Many of the issues protested in London Road stickers are similar to those in London. This striking sticker criticises the reliance of the state on police forces. Brighton generally has an anti-authoritarian vibe (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The anti-authoritarian vibe is also played out through this sticker, variations of which are common throughout Brighton, not just in London Road. The dome which the cannabis leaf is imposed on is frequently used as a symbol of Brighton. It comes from the Brighton Pavilion, a palace built by George IV.

The anti-authoritarian vibe is also played out through this sticker, variations of which are common throughout Brighton, not just in London Road. The dome which the cannabis leaf is imposed on is frequently used as a symbol of Brighton. It comes from the Brighton Pavilion, a palace built by George IV (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Another cause close to the hearts of many Brightonians is environmentalism. The city elected the first ever Green Party MP in 2010, and had one of the first Green-run councils in the country.

Another cause close to the hearts of many Brightonians is environmentalism. The city elected the first ever Green Party MP in 2010, and had one of the first Green-run councils in the country (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Some stickers along London Road are about less familiar issues however. Most of this sticker has been obscured, but it is still possible to make out that it is declaring solidarity with the zapatistas, a topic which I have not seen in a London sticker yet.

Some stickers along London Road are about less familiar issues however. Most of this sticker has been obscured, but it is still possible to make out that it is declaring solidarity with the Zapatistas, a topic which I have not seen in a London sticker yet (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Unfortunately, not everyone in Brighton is liberal and accepting, this sticker declares a vicious anti-immigration stance in support of UKIP. This was not the first time I have seen this sticker around the city, and I must admit I have removed them from the streets in the past.

Unfortunately, not everyone in Brighton is liberal and accepting, this sticker declares a vicious anti-immigration stance in support of UKIP. This was not the first time I have seen this sticker around the city, and I must admit I have removed them from the streets in the past (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The location of stickers can sometimes be important. These stickers were on the entrance to the London Road open market, which has fish stalls.

The location of stickers can sometimes be important. These stickers were on the entrance to the London Road open market, which has fish stalls (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

There are many people in Brighton who are not afraid to be different. Nevertheless this sticker accuses people of being sheep, blindly following the herd.

There are many people in Brighton who are not afraid to be different. Nevertheless this sticker accuses people of being sheep, blindly following the herd (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Just like in London, protest stickers in Brighton are subject to the ravages of time. It is just possible to make out that this sticker is calling for the boycott of Israeli goods, although the colours have faded and most of the letters have worn away.

Just like in London, protest stickers in Brighton are subject to the ravages of time. It is just possible to make out that this sticker is calling for the boycott of Israeli goods, although the colours have faded and most of the letters have worn away (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Anti-fascism is another prominent issue in Brighton, largely due to the March for England demonstrations that are frequently held in the city. This stickers adapts the norm anti-fascist logo to reflect the city's large LGBTQ population.

Anti-fascism is another prominent issue in Brighton, largely due to the March for England demonstrations that are frequently held in the city. This stickers adapts the normal anti-fascist logo to reflect the city’s large LGBTQ population (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The March for England events draw participants and opponents from elsewhere to Brighton.  This stickers comes from Southampton, a city along the coast to the  west.

The March for England events draw participants and opponents from elsewhere to Brighton. This stickers comes from Southampton, a city along the coast to the west of Brighton (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Turbulent London on Film: Save Our Heritage

Winstan Whitter. Save Our Heritage, uploaded 2011, available at  https://vimeo.com/32541973

Winstan Whitter was a film-maker in the right place at the right time. A local boy, he filmed throughout the campaign to save the historic Four Aces Club and surrounding buildings in Dalston, Hackney from demolition and redevelopment. Save Our Heritage tells the story from start to finish, from when the the demolition signs first appeared, to the end of the campaign. The documentary is a compelling example of a single-issue social movement, and showcases a mixture of resistance tactics, some official, others less so. The film is particularly pertinent now, as people feel increasingly marginalised in London, thanks to gentrification and rising house prices. Save Our Heritage tells a story that feels very familiar; it is a detailed snapshot of a process that is going on all over the capital.

The narrative is strung together by interviews with Bill Parry-Davies, a founding member of OPEN Dalston (Organisation for Promotion of Environmental Needs), a “community-based company” of local residents and businesses which started campaigning in early 2005 for the improvement of the local area. Mr Parry-Davies is perhaps not what you would expect in a prominent member of a social movement; he is a well-dressed, well-spoken solicitor, and he brings a certain degree of respectability to the film which may surprise some.

Bill Parry-Davies

Bill Parry-Davies, solicitor and founding member of OPEN Dalston, features prominently in Save Our Heritage (Source: Save Our Heritage).

The film focuses on the campaign to save 4-12 Dalston Lane, which at the beginning of the film is threatened with demolition, largely because it had been neglected by its owners, Hackney Borough Council. The buildings included 2 listed Georgian houses and a circus built in 1886, which has since served as a theatre, cinema, and nightclub. As the Four Aces Club, it was a became a well-known centre for black music in London. The roof was removed in the 1990s, presumably with the full knowledge of Hackney Council, and never replaced. The interiors deteriorated, but the building remained structurally sound. In 2005, the Council began their attempts to demolish the buildings.

The film documents the entire campaign to save the buildings, including a public consultation campaign, alternative proposals, high court injunctions, an occupation (which began to restore the buildings and acted as a form of community centre),  a demonstration outside a Hackney council meeting (in which 5 minutes were allocated for ALL those wishing to oppose the development plans). The council’s chosen plans did not provide any facilities which OPEN claimed the community needed, such as affordable housing, cultural facilities, and open green space. To add insult to injury, it emerged that TFL needed  income from the site to plug a £19 million funding gap from their station development on an adjacent site, which meant that Hackney taxpayers were footing the bill for even more upmarket housing.

Dalston Occupation

A sign attached to the roof of the theatre building by the occupiers (Source: Save Our Heritage).

This is a one-sided account of the story; there is no one representing Hackney Council, TFL, or the developers to tell the other side of the story. Nonetheless, I think it is a well made and informative film, that tells this David and Goliath story in an interesting way. Save Our Heritage is well worth 37 minutes of your time, particularly if you are interested in gentrification and the transformation which London has been through in recent years. It would also make an excellent teaching resource; it is a fantastic record of a diverse and enthusiastic campaign.

Protest Stickers: Chicago

Like most cities around the world, stickers are a common sight in Chicago.

Like most cities around the world, stickers are a common sight in Chicago (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

In April 2015, I went to the annual conference of the American Association of Geographers, which this year was held in Chicago, Illinois. Seeing as I was flying almost 4000 miles, I also took some time to look around the city. There are plenty of protest stickers to be found in Chicago, just like in New York and London. As in other cities, protest stickers in Chicago give us a clue as to what social movements and subversive political campaigns are striking a chord in the city. These movements reflect multiple scales, from the local to the international. Below are some of my favourite pictures from the Windy City.

This was the first sticker I found in Chicago, on my first evening. That was when I knew I was going to like this city!

This was the first sticker I found in Chicago, on my first evening. That was when I knew I was going to like this city! (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Many of the stickers were about local issues. Such as this sticker promoting mayoral candidate Emanuel Rahm, who I assuming has an Irish background because of the clovers.

Many of the stickers were about local issues, such as this sticker promoting mayoral candidate Emanuel Rahm, who I assume has an Irish background because of the clovers. I don’t know if the ‘Get Real’ sticker below is intentional or just a coincidence, but I like to think it was put there on purpose! (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Or this one, supporting Rahm's opponent, Jesus 'Chuy' Garcia. It plays on the Chicago flag, which is four stars on a white background between two blue stripes.

This sticker supports Rahm’s opponent, Jesus ‘Chuy’ Garcia. It plays on the Chicago flag, which is four stars on a white background between two blue stripes. The election took place on the 7th of April 2015, so it’s not surprising there was still a lot of evidence of it when I was there in late April (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Rahm won the election in April, but he is clearly not universally supported. This sticker is a drawing of him.

Rahm won the election in April, but he is clearly not universally supported. This sticker is a drawing of him (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

These stickers also relate to electoral politics. I assume they were handed out at a polling station, but I don't know how they ended up on this chain link fence.

These stickers also relate to electoral politics. I assume they were handed out at a polling station, but I don’t know how they ended up on this chain link fence close to Lake Michigan (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The recent controversy surrounding the relationship between the US police and African Americans was also a common theme. This sticker was advertising a demonstration. Similar stickers were in New York, advertising a protest on the same day.

The recent controversy surrounding the relationship between the US police and African Americans was also a common theme. This sticker was advertising a demonstration. I found similar stickers in New York, advertising a protest on the same day (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This sticker is decidedly anti-police, playing rather unsubtly on the fact that police are often called 'pigs'.

This sticker is decidedly anti-police, playing rather unsubtly on the fact that police are often called ‘pigs’ (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Another recurring theme were unions,. This sticker reminds people of the various workers' rights that unions have fought for in the past.

Another recurring theme were unions. This sticker reminds people of the various workers’ rights that unions have fought for in the past. It is also a good example of how the message of stickers can become harder to decipher as they age and deteriorate (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Some themes were not so familiar however. This sticker is about anti-bullying.

Some themes were not so familiar however. This sticker is about anti-bullying (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Another uncommon theme was feminism. This sticker criticises censorship of the female body.

Another uncommon theme was feminism. This sticker criticises censorship of the female body…(Photo: Hannah Awcock)

...whilst this handmade sticker encourages women to celebrate their body.

…whilst this handmade sticker encourages women to celebrate their body (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This image of Barack Obama references the Obey theme from the work of street artist Shepard Fairey. It also looks very similar to the iconic poster from Obama's 2008 election campaign, which was also designed by Shepard Fairey.

This sticker is a version of the poster designed for Barack Obama’s 2008 election campaign, which normally has a red and blue colour scheme. It was designed by the street artist Shepard Fairey, who’s Obey street art is world-famous (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This sticker also references a national campaign. The Fight for 15 is part of the movement demanding a $15/hr minimum wage. Protests took place all over the country on April the 15th, or 4/15 in the American style of dating.

This sticker also references a national campaign. The Fight for 15 is part of the movement demanding a $15/hr minimum wage. Protests took place all over the country on April the 15th, or 4/15 in the American style of dating (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

These stickers are a little more intellectual than usual, and don't exactly make it easy to understand the argument being made.

These stickers are a little more intellectual than usual, and don’t exactly make it easy to understand the argument being made (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Fascism is a world-wide issue, and so too is the anti-fascism campaign.

Fascism is a world-wide issue, and so too is the anti-fascism campaign. I have seen very similar stickers in London (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This weathered sticker is for the Stop Staples campaign, which is attempting to prevent Staples from doing a deal with the U.S. Postal Service which would involve setting up postal counters in Staples stores with low-paid, untrained Staples employees.

This weathered sticker is for the Stop Staples campaign, which is attempting to prevent Staples from doing a deal with the U.S. Postal Service which would involve setting up postal counters in Staples stores with low-paid, untrained Staples employees (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This sticker doesn't appear to be linked to any campaign in particular, and could be referencing any number of issues such as climate change or consumerism.

This sticker doesn’t appear to be linked to any campaign in particular, and could be referencing any number of issues such as climate change or consumerism (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This is not a protest sticker, but I just liked it so much that I decided to put it in. It's pretty good advice too!

This is not a protest sticker, but I just liked it so much that I decided to put it in. It’s pretty good advice too! (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Special thanks to Llinos Brown, who put up with my odd habit of taking close-up pictures of random bits of street furniture and also helped me find a few stickers whilst we were in Chicago.