The idea of gentrification is a tricky one to grapple with. On one hand, new money flooding into a economically depressed neighborhood runs the danger of pricing out locals. On the other hand: We want more money in our economically depressed neighborhoods, don’t we? We want shoppers ready to spend cash and diners excited to test new flavors, right?
It’s a conversation that requires nuance, a resource that’s in rare supply these days. Redlining and the long shadow of institutionalized racism mean that many of the residents getting priced out of “suddenly cool” neighborhoods are people of color. Still, diverse businesses certainly thrive with an influx of new foot traffic. To navigate this complex problem, it’s clear that we’ll need fresh thinking and a wide-range of viewpoints. Blunt force — from either side of the debate — is sure to ignore vital perspectives. Most of all, it’s crucial that local residents and business owners aren’t pushed out of the discussion. It’s the upstarts and experimenters who make any neighborhood cool in the first place.
Pop Brixton, a mini-mall of sorts built from shipping containers, is tackling these complicated issues in a clear-eyed, inclusive manner. Their goal is to celebrate the South London neighborhood’s own creative voices and allow vendors and restaurants to succeed together. It offers subsidies for local startups and insists on keeping rents affordable.
“I think Pop’s done an amazing thing,” says Adrian Luckie, owner of Mama’s Jerk, “it’s given business operators like myself the chance to employ local people. I think it’s had a really good, positive impact on the area.”
Right now, the site plays hosts to food startups, radio stations, media companies, and retail outlets. There’s even an experimental theater. By doing celebrating multiculturalism, Pop Brixton has become a hub for the neighborhood and a boon for local economy.
Perhaps we need a different name for this sort of inclusive strategy. It’s not gentrification, it’s just smart development.