In short, a journalist called Emma Hogan – whose website says she graduated from Cambridge university in 2010 – argued that some London high streets are “resistant to change”, with Kentish Town Road the epitome of the “humdrum”.
It boasts neither “bars and tattoo parlours” like Camden Town, she sighed, nor boutiques and bistros like Hampstead. Furthermore, its shops and cafés are “almost invariably untrendy and in some cases mouldering. A hair salon, a butcher and a sportswear shop have each been owned by the same men for more than a quarter of a century. Why?”
Ranging over possible explanations to fit her argument, including the proportion of council housing, demography, the power of Nimbys, and “paradoxically” soaring house prices, Hogan concluded that “London is a global city, but it is also a collection of villages, cranky and resistant to change.”
Resistant to change? A little light investigation would throw up hip indie coffee shops Two Doors Down, Arancini Brothers and Doppio, tattoo parlour Scratchline, speakeasy bars like Knowhere Special, Shebeen and the forthcoming Ladies and Gentleman, restaurants such as Upstairs, Kami, Kentish Canteen and the soon-to-arrive Patron, and quality stores like Earth Natural Foods and Phoenicia. And youthful crowds cram the revamped Abbey, Oxford and Assembly House, with the Bull & Gate about to reopen near the world-famous Forum venue.
And, while we accept that the piece is focused solely on the high street, it’s nonetheless worth a mention that two minutes away from Kentish Town Road are Soho House Group’s three restaurants, as well as acclaimed new foodie venture Shoe Shop. “Even the local kebab shop E.Mono has been named as one of Giles Coren’s favourite restaurants,” says reader Patrick Peake, with a groan.
But justifying Kentish Town Road as either trendy or steadfastly “untrendy” is of course missing the point. As reader Judith says, “thank God for the high street: it’s unpretentious, with a library and post office that are both open.” Longstanding businesses like Blustons, Flaxon Ptootch, Wine Cellar, B&S, Pane Vino, the fruit and veg stalls and Owl Bookshop have flourished for decades for a reason. Stores like Poundstretcher fulfil other useful needs.
So the Economist’s argument is really nothing more than a simplistic one: that most London high streets (with notable exceptions in wealthy pockets) are a mix. Is it calling for the capital to be more like Paris? All prettified central streets with the poor relegated to the perimeter?
Susie Clarke, co-owner of the Grafton, one of north London’s liveliest boozers, argues that the article is clearly poorly researched. “Its themes bear no resemblance whatsoever to the Kentish Town we know. I do appreciate the status of a town’s High Street as its ‘calling card’ but it in no way defines a neighbourhood either culturally or economically.”
“I didn’t think much of it,” agrees historian Gillian Tindall, who was quoted. “[The journalist] just doesn’t really understand Kentish Town or, I suspect, the finer gradations of London districts in general. She thought Camden Town was a success because it has late-night bars (and the attendant problems) and KT less successful because it has avoided that culture – a somewhat naive view.
“She also didn’t seem to notice the coffee shops that now line the high street, and failed to grasp that the point about the long-standing shops (such as the butchers) is that they have survived because they are Really Good.”
But Times food critic and TV presenter Giles Coren disagrees: “I can’t argue with the logic or the picture they paint, although obviously they miss the small handful of good and important shops on the high street, but it is mostly shit-awful pubs, filthy fast food and pound shops. The social register of the high street comers and goers is why the gentrification of shops has come to the top end of Fortess Road instead, and will continue to do now until the place is a second Ledbury Road, for which I give thanks every day.”
Ahem. This publication’s raison d’etre – and, we should add, success – has been rooted in its embrace of the area’s diverse community, deep history – and constant changes. Isn’t a high street which appeals to different layers of society crucial?
“The article happily misses the point,” reckons Observer Food Monthly editor Allan Jenkins. “It is precisely because it is a mixed community that Kentish Town works. God save us from another Camden Town or Hampstead with their multiple phone shops and baking chains like any other high street. I prefer my middle-classes (and of course I am one) to creep slowly rather than destroy the identity of the old London places it parasites on without due diligence.”
Finally, Jenkins says he’s proud that Kentish Town hasn’t been “obliterated by soulless supermarkets” and people still happily shop in places with familiar faces and personality. “I’m happy, too, that the pace of inevitable change allows the old family stores to survive without being rent reviewed out of existence. Now I’m off to buy my biodynamic tea from Earth, excuse me.”
What are your thoughts?
Read the original article here.
I am not a Kentish Town resident. My girlfriend lives here. I like the "ordinariness" of Kentish Town. Having a good mix of different social types is refreshing. I like the fact that it can rub along with its assortment of eccentrics and (frankly) fruitcakes. Anyway, the High Street ain't that bad: it's got a Pret, hasn't it?! Plus, the pubs are not shitty. They're great. I love the Oxford. And the food shopping rocks too: you've got Phoenicia, you lucky people. And lastly, the lovely Natasha (I think that's her name), who sells flowers on a Saturday morning -- although I believe she commutes from Colchester.
Julianator does appear to pop up whenever there is a debate about paupers and their beastly shops in KT. But my real beef is with Giles Coren. When is he going to stop talking about what a shithole KT is and leave? It's Ok, Giles, we'll forgive you for abandoning us here and moving on to pastures less shitty. Really, we will
I've lived in the area for about 10 years. I love living here. Christo's our estate agent just put our rent up BY £400 a month. (Or at least are trying too.) It's really sad.
On the Street that I live in in KT, and indeed the surrounding area, there are plenty of people who bought their houses 40 years ago when property in Camden was relatively dirt cheap.
They are retired teachers lecturers civil servants etc - Asset rich and cash poor.
I suspect that you feel that they are undeservedly 'lucky' as they were able to buy property here in a very very different market to that which you (and I have)
Presumably you would also have them forced to sell their houses so that wealthier (tory) residents could move in as, even though they've been here for 40 plus years they are not contributing to the gentrification of the high street as they don't have loads of spare cash.
When i (having worked extremely hard by the way) bought my place a few years ago, I did because of the knowledge that the area had a good social mix and wasn't just full of rich people. And I dearly hope that it stays that way.
if i'd wanted to live in a rich ghetto i would have moved to Kensington.
Blimey, what on earth have I said that would make you think I supported expropriating the assets of local home owners? That sort of thing is much more popular with the utopian left then the laissez faire right.
Read what I've said again. I'm happy for Camden to build more modern social housing across the borough (at a ratio higher than 1 built for every 1 sold)by selling the older properties in their portfolio that have inflated in value. In doing so we'd have more people in the area living in social housing AND more private residents buying the high value properties. The increase in stock available to the private sector would help to moderate overall property values and rents. Our high street would become nicer by virtue of that influx of middle classes. And our homeless and overcrowded would have a better chance of actually getting a place to live in.
As a sign-off to those of you who seem think think I'm a ghastly free marketeer, I imagine it may terrify you even more to discover that until quite recently I was a member of the Labour party.
you said that you wanted people living in social housing to be evicted and their houses sold to wealthy people for the express purpose of making the high street 'nicer', although, of course, you never say what you mean by nicer. Of course, you may have other reasons for wanting social housing tenants evicted, but this is, primarily, a thread about the commercial offer on the high street.
so by the same token surely, we should be forcing long standing home owners who aren't wealthy to sell up and replace them with middle classes with the effect of making the highstreet 'nicer' by virtue of that influx of middle classes as you put it.
I didn't say I wanted social housing tenants evicted in favour of private buyers. I said higher-value properties should be sold to fund the building of modern social housing at a greater than 1:1 ratio. Under this approach nobody would be forcibly evicted from social housing - they would either move to the new modern housing voluntarily or alternatively their house would be sold when their tenancy ended. We would end up with more social housing capacity than we currently do without having to spend any new public money.
re the original point of this article: the offering on the High Street would improve because the older council housing then sold into the private market would inevitably attract wealthier buyers who place a premium on period properties. I suspect the people living in social housing would also value the subsequent prettifying of the area - I doubt the mainstream shops they use are about to disappear.
So: there is a world of difference between what I suggest and what you think I'm suggesting.
I found the article a bit jaundiced about council housing and the Irish community - a meme I haven't seen since the 1980s. Needless to say I don't agree that what we need to turn an area around is some richer graduates to move into vacated council homes.
But Julianator may have their way - the government wants the council to sell properties precisely the way suggested - I'd imagine it will be in their next manifesto. The so-called 'high value' properties are usually the larger ones, so this would impact quite a lot of larger families. It's not clear the receipt would be kept by the council though - it's more likely the build would be outside of the borough, realising the fears expressed by many commentators here.
But why blame the people? Camden High Street serves many local residents - hell, it even has a Waitrose - and is right near loads of council housing. Maybe investment isn't coming in for other reasons? Camden Town, for example, has a business improvement district which works to attract investment and solve local problems.
The thing about Julianator is that he/ she does pop up on every article like this and debate his/ her point to death.
What do you think this is going to achieve apart from wind up other readers? If you believe it so strongly do something about it, otherwise please leave us lefties in peace!
Debating on community forums is doing something about it; it offers an opportunity to change minds. I hope my points have have made some people think about how to make KT nicer and improve a social housing system that works in very few peoples' interests.
Julianator is absolutely right, although many people are hard wired to disagree with his free market ideas. Camden could save us all a fortune by using its property portfolio more efficiently. For example, why does Kentish Town library need to occupy prime retail space in the High Street? Find a cheaper backstreet location for the books and let that space to the highest bidder, or better still sell it. Councillors need to be more savvy with our money.
To continue a good natured debate Pat K, could you elaborate on this tasty morsel, "and give those that need it most the mobility they deserve."
Hi Andy...only that I imagine there to be (forgive me I've not seen figures) hundreds of thousands/millions of people and families in poor social housing and hostels or at the mercy of the crippling private rental market desperate for a 21st century standard home either provided by our social service or available to buy at a reasonble level (either by way of full or shared ownership). This could be provided in London, Camden even, if some 'new' thinking was employed. Is J wrong in highlighting that the plethora of council owned victorian houses are worth a great deal (financially) to the private sector and that the resultant new builds gained could be an answer to current housing issues?
Unite-Group and Urbanest seem are capable of building cheap excellent standard student property in the borough so why can't our council do the same for our people that 'need it most'?
I don't buy the argument that 'key workers' have to live in the communities where they work. People commute into the City and the West End from the counties where property is substantially cheaper - door to door journeys of 90 minutes aren't uncommon. What's so unique about teachers, nurses and firemen that they can't also commute?
Primrose Hill, sadly, will always be beyond my reach.
But I take comfort from knowing that I'm self-aware enough to know that; and proud enough not to expect somebody else (or the state) to fund a house for me there.
Mmm, There's an idea, let's have a look at Kettering, for example. Ooh, yes, property's not too bad - but, of dear, the season ticket to London is £6,420. Oh, and I'll miss the last train home cos of the shift, so I might as well just kip in the waiting room. Yes, that works.
There is no point explaining to this bitter Hayasinth "mrs bucket version of Glasgow" troll, she spends her time writing similar comments on everx kentish towner articles. When she finally moves to Primrose Hill, I really feel sorry for the locals.
There is nothing unique about key workers but a 90-minute commute isn't feasible for most. Do you know what season tickets cost? What if you have children? Kentish Town is still vibrant and a big part of this is down to the diversity of the area. Take that away and then you get Primrose Hill. Oh wait, that's a good thing isn't is?
Sad isn't it J - when you have a pov that isn't shared by all and the majority of those that disagree can only throw insults. Shame on them.
Pat K, I think the responses made valid points to the argument posted by J. He seems to want the area cleansed of everyone except those in very high income brackets which understandably may anger some. If that's also what you support then shame on you.
Look, I'm not trying to troll. Everything I've said is a fact: The Economist is right that KT Road is indeed a bit grotty; the reason for that is the preponderance of council housing in the area because that critical mass sustains some crappy shops and also stops wealthier residents moving in; and our current social housing policy is no longer fit for purpose because it acts as a barrier to social mobility by trapping some people in one area while blocking others who need it more from moving in, all the while forcing up private sector prices by restricting supply to a very lucky minority.
If you're one of the lucky few who has access to social housing in central London areas such as KT then I can understand why you like the current system. But the system is failing everybody else - the deprived from outside London who would add value to the city if only they could get a reasonably-priced home all the way through to the better-off who are chained to their mortgages while paying taxes to subsidise social housing.
One way to fix it would be to start a modern social housing building programme using money made from selling the council's huge collection of high-value properties. But Camden won't do that, because the local Labour party rely on votes from the lucky few who have access to existing local social housing and want to protect their interests.
And that, in a nutshell, is why KT Road is mostly unlovely with only small pockets of niceness; and in the absence of change will remain so for many years to come.
I wouldn't wish for areas to be defined purely by affordability with people moving up or down the ladder as their wealth changes. And while somewhere like Mayfair might be the top, I personally wouldn't want to move there but I also dislike the idea of the incumbents of Mayfair enacting policies to prevent me from living there. That feels like whether as a country we want to exclude people coming over here.
Julianator's comments are interesting because although we may react against his worldview, they make us examine whether we are using specious arguments to justify ours. We might know how we like KT to feel but not what reasons it has for being that way.
Doris - I didn't say I wanted the area cleansed. But the current social housing approach only works for a very lucky local few, while stopping others at all levels of the income scale from moving in. If you're poor and not from KT you can't get a council house here; if you're middle income you can't afford to buy a house; and if you're out-and-out rich you probably want to live somewhere else. So KT is left with a local - but stagnant - few who have access to council housing and a cadre of the moderately well-off who are slaves to their enormous mortgages.
If we sold off Camden's collection of higher-value council properties and used that cash to build modern social housing at a ratio higher than 1 for 1 we'd start to solve those problems very quickly. Camden (unlike many other councils) has a stock of Victorian and pre-war houses that the private sector would pay hundreds of millions for and a vast portfolio of vacant or underused council-owned land that it can build on quickly.
Building property is far cheaper than buying it; and modern housing is cheaper to maintain than older housing; and council housing sold into the private sector generates higher council tax revenue. This would be a no-brainer if it wasn't for the vested interest of the lucky few already in desirable council houses (which includes some of our councillors who have managed to wangle themselves into social housing in areas such as Covent Garden) or at the top of the list for receiving one - the latter group most likely people born here who have been on the waiting list since very early adulthood.
And in doing all of this: we retain a social mix across the borough while enabling high streets such as KT Road to prettify. What's not to like?
Only a minority responded with valid points that did not then descend into direct insults. Sadly those that did did not do their valid views the justice they deserve (IMO). For the record, I like J's delivery of view and whilst not entirely agreeing with it, see merit in the economics. New thinking and approach will breed out the stagnation that exists throughout this brilliant island and give those that need it most the mobility they deserve.
Julianator, what do you mean by "lucky". Genrally those who receive social housing in Camden are not those that I would consider lucky. It would also be interesting to see the number of those who have received council housing in Kentish Town over the last few years are "local" - not that this is an issue but this seems to be your view.
Do you seriously think that it is those who live in council properties are the "lucky few".
Well. Pat K...your comment hardly fair or well judged. Julianator's arguments I think well met and without malice... not 'sad'. I am sure J will recognise that his somewhat contentious views probably not shared by "all"...hardly brickbats thrown in reply...all debate surely welcome. Your use of the word 'shame' lowered the tone and no mistake.
Greg - 'lucky' in comparison to those with dire housing need but no chance of accessing social housing because they haven't lived here since early adulthood.
'Lucky' in comparison to the workers who earn just a bit too much to get on the (eye-wateringly long) waiting list, and who are condemned to pay huge private rents while paying taxes that subsidise the social housing they probably deserve but will never be able to access.
'Lucky' because they have lifelong tenancies they will never be asked to give up, even if they inherited the tenancy and now earn six figure salaries.
'Lucky' because they happened to be born at just the right time to get a house, when the waiting lists were short and rents heavily protected.
Julianator, What percentage of those being given social housing in Kentish Town have been living in Kentish Town since early adulthood?
Do you not think that there should be subsidized social housing in Kentish Town?
Do you think there are many council tenants in Kentish Town living in inherited flats and earning six figure salaries? Would that be the norm?
I personally wouldn't put being born at a certain time and a certain place down to luck. I believe there is a more scientific explanation.
Julianator - what about the people who provide services to you and your family - postmen, teachers, nurses etc.? On their salaries, they can't afford a house, a flat, or a even council flat for that matter in Kentish Town, yet I'd say they slog either as hard as or (more likely) harder than you. But yes, chose a profession that is actually of real value and you can expect to live in a squalid 40 sq m rented flat in...Tottenham. Oh wait, even that's too expensive. Slog a bit harder and get yourself into Primrose HIll please.
Her article is badly written and badly researched. That aside, the best thing about KT is the variety of people who live here - thank God there are still places in London where ordinary working people haven't been pushed out! And the high street is great - the mixture of inexpensive ordinary chain stores with little independents, and still room leftover for a little gentrification!
Well said Liv. "If the area had fewer council houses it would be much prettier and wealthier," says Julianator. Yes, that's what counts, mate - and my daughter who was born here would never be able to live here as an independent adult, nor would the teachers, bin men, bar staff, garage mechanics, nurses etc etc...
If your daughter can't afford a house here, why should she be entitled to one?
I grew up in Glasgow and had to slog my guts out for over a decade to be able to buy a house in KT. Why does your daughter get to win the council lottery and get a house here subsidised by the taxes I paid while trying to save up a deposit?
I did not mean to give the impression my daughter should get a Kentish Town council property as an entitlement. My point is that even averagely paid workers for whom this is their lifelong home have little chance of buying a property here even if they "slog their guts out for 10 years". Perhaps they, and she, should try Glasgow.
I just don't get the logic behind the "I grew up here therefore I deserve to live here as an adult" argument. As adults we all understand that if we want things we have to make sure we get the education and career that enables us to fund that lifestyle. but we seem to lose that understanding when it comes to housing. The fact is that if we choose not to put the effort in - or we're just not good enough - it's no-one else's responsibility (least of all the state's) to fund our lifestyle, including our accommodation, for us.
That pervasive lack of logic has led to a situation in London where people who weren't lucky enough to be born here (or have managed to do very well indeed in their careers) are frozen out because a vast council stock is reserved for a small portion of locals. If that stock was sold into the private sector then the overall housing stock would be cheaper because of the increase in supply; and the council would be flush with cash to build modern properties that can house people in far nicer conditions. And every year the council's overall council tax revenues would go up because fewer properties would be exempt. But Camden is too blinkered to see this and insists on blocking all council house sales where it can. Baffling.
I live in KT but am not originally from here, and with my outsidider's eyes it seems that the article hits on a truth about KT: if the area had fewer council houses it would be much prettier and wealthier.
The area has an enviable location close to the Heath with great transport links to the West End and the City and easy access to Kings X and Euston, with an impressive if often dilapidated stock of elegant Victorian terraced and semi-detached housing. In many ways it's remarkable it isn't fully gentrified already.
But despite those advantages the preponderance of 'social' housing makes it very difficult for the area to generate the momentum that true gentrification requires: unless many more homes are sold into the private sector wealth will only come to the area in small pockets. And without that wealth we will continue to have a main drag of KT Road that mostly consists of bookies, kebab shops, fried chicken joints, Poundstretcher and a handful of useful but unpretty local businesses (B&S, Harry's, Property Management store etc).
And of course we are hobbled by some incredibly reactionary local interest groups when it comes to development: the Kentish Town Neighbourhood Forum seems to oppose all development no matter whether beneficial or not. But that's another story.
Why does it need to be wealthier? What's the problem with council estates? Don't the people who can't afford much deserve to live in nice areas too? Do they all need to live in a dump?
The only thing that "making an area wealthier" does is drive prices up and high prices do not equal nice and pleasant.
I wasn't making a value judgment; I didn't say it 'needed' to be wealthier. I was just saying that The Economist accurately pointed out that KT Road is unlovely; and also accurately pointed out that the reason for this is the concentration of council housing in the area, because the residents of those houses sustain shops that would otherwise close down with an influx of wealthier residents.
KT is a nice place to live but KT Road is undoubtedly grotty; if you like that, that's fine.
It sounds as if Emma Hogan's research may have involved passing through KT on her bus ride to her Highgate abode. I can certainly understand her point of view from passing through on the bus in the morning or early evening. Much of KT's gentrification is off the high street, but it is still there, if you take the time to get off the bus you'd see it. That said, her article did specifically talk about the high street and not the area as a whole.
It is worth noting that if you were to get the bus along Kingsland Road to work you would probably also have the view that it is a bit of sh!thole with nothing "trendy", it's only when you are there at the right time, or start looking in the nooks and crannies of Dalston that it comes alive. While very different, KT has similarities because it is a place you need to explore to realise what it offers.
I visit fortress road and go to Engocha and get my cut price organic meat, which has been on street long before it was fashionable. I avoid all the other apartheid shops on the street, who would love a sign outside their door if it was legal.
Good setting-the-record-straight to a poor article. Not sure why the journalist's personal details are relevant though..?
So pleased we opened in Fortess Road a year ago. Co-op now opening opposite us in the Tally Ho, which was empty for years. Ladies & Gents bar will be excellent. Drove up KT Road just now. Counted 1 pub and two shops available plus the soon to open Lidl. Our next venture is an indoor market near Queens Crescent.
Are Two Doors Down and Arancini Brothers evan in Kentish Town?
That the high street still has shops that are useful to the local residents is a blessing (poundshop, hardware store that sells eveything, Phoenicia, Iceland, cheap veg store, butcher, flower shop, etc. I use them all) . Kentish town is just a nice place - that's it. Let's hope it never turns into what kentishtowner would like it to be.
Thanks for the compliment. Our postcode is NW1 but we're well before the rail bridge which I believe is the boundary. (Only going on the sign though)