I enjoy a well made flat white as one of my little luxuries in life. But lately, even the best of them has been leaving a sour taste in my heart. Not the fault of any barista, roaster or blend. The sourness comes from a conflict brewing in my conscience that leaves me feeling uneasy about how things are changing in east London, and the unaware flat white, smashed avocado and sourdough loaf among other things, seem to have become symbolic of this unease.
There are 2 principles that I try super hard to consider as a consumer:
- Supporting independent businesses and;
- Being mindful of the social changes in my local area.
These days, my regular flat white has begun to epitomise the collision of these two principles. And I do not feel good about it.
As I witness more and more local high streets that have always been dominated by independent businesses, that locals can afford give way the invisible partitions of gentrification....I despair.
The pattern tends to follow a similar path wherever you are in London, from Brixton to Clapton:
1. An economically poor but vibrant area - becomes "cool" to many an outsider.
2. Wealthy young people from outside of London, attracted by the "cool status" and affordability of the area move in and start up small independent businesses.
3. Tech, trend and Social savvy, they can attract the press, they attract other young wealthy cool-hunting people to support and endorse their businesses.
4. Rents and house prices go up. Many long-term locals have to move out of their homes.
5. Locals who stay - get priced out of their own neighbourhoods. Can't afford, nor want to buy the flat whites, sourdough loaves and organic produce that the new establishments sell.
6. Locals feel excluded. New Establishments are not aimed at them.
7. Local shops that can move with the changes begin to stock the things that the new people want. But some shops get left behind - the change is too big, and newcomers just won't shop there. So they close down.
8. More and more independent new shops open selling things that the long-term locals don't need, want or afford.
9. The divide between those who can afford to spend £12 each an avocado-laden brunch and those who have to feed their entire family on £12 grows and grows.
Can anyone else see this? It makes my heart feel heavy. It makes me feel uneasy. I can't ignore it.
I am conflicted because I want to and do support these new independent stores that have cropped up in places like Broadway, Chatsworth Road, Shoreditch etc. I would rather my hard-earned money went to an enterprising individual who really appreciates my custom than a huge soulless corporation. But there is more to this story than supporting an independent business.
I don't want to feel that I am supporting social cleansing and the displacing of the soul of these places that I love so much.
Supporting those business than have been there before the gentrification turned into an all consuming monster goes without saying. In my opinion, these are the real local independent establishments that we should all be supporting.
It is easier to turn a blind eye, close my heart and pretend that everyone is happily living side by side. But I can't. The divide between the rich and poor in London is getting out of hand.
That is why my flat white doesn't taste so good these days.