Over the last few years, my city has continued to undergo some drastic changes. From luxury apartments, food stores, John Lewis, and a tram system, Birmingham’s city centre is barely recognizable! Having the option to buy vegan hotdogs, or picking up a juice from Jo the Juice bar certainly beats the days of just Nando’s and McDonald’s.
In 2013 they opened up the biggest library in Europe in my city. They are currently in the process of building HSBC’s main headquarters in Birmingham at the end of 2018. The HS2 high speed trains project is predicted to make Birmingham a popular destination to live for professionals over the next few years.
But what people are not talking about is the process of gentrification emerging in Birmingham as a result of these changes. In Ladywood, an area in close proximity to the city centre, housing prices have risen by a whopping 17% in 2017. This is the same area that was ranked as the worst area for child poverty in 2016, according to End Child Poverty Campaign. The irony of this ‘development’ is that many working class, poor communities are forgotten about in the process.
Luxury apartments and hotels are being built everywhere whilst many people struggle to pay their rent. Homelessness is on the rise, as evident simply by walking around the city centre. The amount of people facing the threat of eviction or drowning in rent arrears is a common occurrence. Toppled with a highly competitive job market, cuts to universal credit and low wages, survival for low-income families is getting harder by the day.
I recently came across a white-owned hipster ‘games shop’ on monument road, a corner that is known for prostitution and drug addicts. Even though the area is very diverse, I have never seen a local from the community inside the shop- mostly white students and professionals. They stand out like a sore thumb, making no effort to attract or engage with the locals. This is a common example of white gentrifiers exploiting rent prices in poor, working class areas whilst making locals feel like outsiders in their communities. Urban regeneration in Birmingham is starting to mimic the early stages of gentrification that took place in areas like Brixton or Hackney in London.
For the purpose of being nuanced, there are many people who have moved to Birmingham due to the extortionate housing prices in other parts of the country, particularly London. People who have been victims of gentrification themselves have been forced to move to places like Birmingham not out of choice, but as a matter of survival. Essentially this problem is rooted in the class inequalities and government austerity measures that discriminates against the poor.
Whilst I can empathize with those people who have been forced to move for that reason, I cannot support luxury apartments being built within communities that are experiencing high child poverty, lack of job opportunities and high rent prices.
To conclude, it’s time to start looking closely at how this is going to develop in Birmingham and what impact it is going to have on low-income communities over the next few years. Change is a good thing but only when it’s not at the expense of the poor!
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