Formerly known as ”murder mile”, Clapton was infamous for its gun and drug-related crime rather than its crêperies and coffee houses. Now, dubbed the frontline of Hackney’s gentrification, Clapton has undergone dramatic change. Absorbing the overspill from its increasingly gentrified neighbours, Dalston and Stoke Newington, E5 has been dramatically “yummified”.
2014 has witnessed the invasion of even more independent cafes catering for an incoming class of babycino-buying, flat-white-sipping mothers. Yet another coffee shop, Hub Velo, is about to open in place of Nollywood unisex hair salon.
With an increasing number of young creative-sector types making the move East, houses in Clapton Square now sell for £1.5 million and more. This change would have been unimaginable half a decade ago. However, the rise in house prices is probably more of a testament to the successes of Mossbourne and Clapton Girls Academy than to E5’s unchanging Victorian architecture. Parents are now paying a premium to get their children into the catchment areas.
These new Claptonites have generated a fresh set of businesses: the sourdough pizza restaurant, wine-bar and boutique B&B are all tokens of rising affluence. In fact, things are changing so quickly on Lower Clapton road that it has become difficult to remember where old establishments used to be. Cycling past “Hairdo corner”, the parade of Afro-Caribbean barbers and beauty salons opposite Clapton Pond, I notice the amusingly named God First Unisex Salon, has been replaced by a retro milkshake bar.
Nevertheless, it is important to remember that these trendy establishments continue to be surrounded by William Hills, Dixy Chickens and payday loan shops. In actual fact, it is probably this avant-garde juxtaposition of pawnshops and pop-up galleries which make Clapton so sought after. However, one must ask how long Clapton will be able to walk the tightrope of hip deprivation before ascending into Church Street-scale luxury.
While it is undeniable that Clapton is changing, the changes fail to benefit the majority of its residents. In a predominantly low-income area, fancy cheeses and cutesy cupcakes are out of most people’s price range. What’s more, even if these new food delicacies were distributed fairly, would London Fields lager and organic kale chips really help a family having their housing benefit slashed? Local residents may not feel cool or comfortable enough to join the self-satisfied sea of bearded hipsters tapping away on their Macbooks.
While the new Claptonite enjoys the luxury of fretting over whether to buy wine from Sussex or Chile, the choice between hunger, heating and transport remains a reality for many. Despite the official rhetoric of “trickle-down” regeneration, Clapton continues to be overrun with social problems. Last week’s figures reveal Hackney to be the third worst local authority for child poverty in the UK, with a figure of 39 per cent.
As the coalition government continues to dismantle the welfare state, the polarised nature of Clapton’s gentrification has become increasingly visible. While bearded artists sip on their nude espressos, local residents walk the breadline, struggling with day-to-day living costs, in-work poverty and a brutal sanctions regime. The fast-changing transformation of Clapton symbolizes a tale of two cities as London continues to be overwhelmed by the tide of gentrification.