Shoreditchification: 10 questions you really must ask

Proud Camden boss Alex Proud has caused a storm online with an article in the Telegraph decrying the “hipsterfication of run-down urban areas”. Do you agree?

Sign in Camden Lock Market.
Aren’t cities by their nature ephemeral, marked by tides of progress and decline?

Did you see Alex Proud’s lively pop at the Shoreditchification of London neighbourhoods the other day? “What I hate more than Shoreditch itself is the idea of Shoreditch,” he wrote in the Telegraph, “and the way that so many of London’s neighbourhoods have been Shoreditched, are being Shoreditched or will be Shoreditched.”

In what is (presumably intentionally) a giddily provocative plea against Shoreditch – or Dalston – or Peckham – Proud holds up two neighbourhoods which have achieved more longevity in the “cool” stakes: Borough Market and Camden Town. “Camden was cool in 1994 (and even 1984) and it’s still cool in 2014. It has, dare I say it, sustainable coolness”.

If you’ve read the hundreds of comments and social media reaction you’ll know that having a vested interest (ie his Camden nightclub) had quite an effect on the argument the man was making. But in the interests of adding something to the debate, here are 10 questions to consider (and no, there are no right answers):

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Hip streetfood: French & Grace
Hip streetfood: French & Grace, Camden Lock Place. Photo: Stephen Emms

1. Isn’t the whole debate – jocular or otherwise – missing the point? Cities are transient at their best. We don’t own them; we only pass through, leave our mark, and move on (or die). We all know the capital is as much a place for “locals” as it is for “bridge and tunnel”, commuters, immigrants and tourists. Oh, and hipsters for that matter.


2. Doesn’t everything now have a short shelf life – newly hip parts of the city included – a fact which is exacerbated by social media? And this process is heightened in a world city like London. There’s no one – bearded or otherwise – in control of it.

3. Won’t making grand statements about any one part of the city always lead to tears? Londoners are so fiercely loyal about their neighbourhood (which, of course, contributes to the rise of a website like Kentishtowner) that they forget that…

4. …actually, aren’t we lucky to be having this debate at all? We should all remember how fortunate we are to live anywhere in London, and even have an opinion on what is fashionable. Or not.

5. Aren’t cities by their nature ephemeral, marked by tides of progress and decline? The people who had the original vision for a fledgling Camden Lock Market back in 1973 couldn’t have imagined the level of tourism in 2014.

6. And yet, on the subject of Camden, despite being at a low PR ebb (witness the vitriol of some of the commenters in the Telegraph), hasn’t there actually been a rash of good openings recently (everything is cyclical, after all)? Backstreet pubs/bars like the Colonel Fawcett, Black Heart or Spiritual; artisan coffee shops like Ruby Dock (owned by Lantana), Tower 47 and the Coffee Jar, independent Japanese restaurants on Parkway, and foodie micro streetfood brands in the Lock market itself, like Honest Burger and French & Grace (pictured, above). And so on. And yet the perception of the area has remained static, because, perhaps, perceptions of some areas don’t move so quickly after all.

Chatsworth Road, Clapton. Photo Sonya Hurtado
Chatsworth Road, Clapton. Photo: Sonya Hurtado
7. Anyway, why is somewhere deemed beyond the pale just because it’s touristy (yes, we’re all guilty of this)? Why are tourists considered the absolute nadir of humanity? And let’s not forget when a place is rammed with visitors, new exciting or creative businesses often open in the side streets – in both east London (look at Wilton Way in Hackney, or Chatsworth Road, pictured) and Camden (the DRAF gallery in a cobbled mews, for example, or tucked-away Camden Town Brewery).

8. Speaking of which, isn’t an additional point here that north London isn’t so immune to Shoreditchification either? It could be argued that Kentish Town (once, like Hackney, considered “dangerous”, and certainly somewhat off the beaten “Camden” track), has become hip in a way that parallels previously run-down areas in both east and southeast London.

9. So then, is it actually redundant either to defend or gun down a specific neighbourhood in the first place? London for us has never been about areas “competing”: isn’t it more effective to celebrate the vibrant parts and ignore/improve (according to one’s mindset) the others? We’re passionate about (nearly) all parts of London for different reasons – character, communities and history being three – but we don’t see them as rivals.

10. And finally, what would happen if Shoreditchification could indeed be stopped? Would this nebulous idea of real individuality blossom? Or would shops remain boarded up? Businesses purely online-only, or chains? A proliferation of shopping malls? What’s next?

Words: Stephen Emms and Tom Kihl

  • Show Comments

  • Emma

    I enjoyed Alex’s original article very much – and read a lot of it out to my housemates (in Kentish Town). We laughed a lot. It was full of amusing stereotypes and ironies and was a solid piece of opinion journalism. I didn’t agree with it all but I did agree with some of it. Everyone has an opinion and why shouldn’t it be shared?! Maybe question 11 above should be “Isn’t it great that we can all have an opinion and air it freely in the UK”?
    It could be worse, it could have ended up in a diplomatic storm like the recent criticism of France…

  • Gavin Juniper

    Reminded me of my dad saying “Can’t they afford a shirt?” when the rest of us enjoyed watching The Sweet, Slade or Roxy on ToTP bitd. “Plus ca Change”, as they now say in Kentish Town.

  • Mik Scarlet

    As someone who has been visiting Camden since the 1980’s, who married a local girl I met in the Electric Ballroom, and who has lived here for over 10 years, but who is also disabled, I can say that one element of Shoreditchification is better access for disabled people. This is a feature of most gentrified areas that Camden is lagging miles behind on.
    I am a professional access expert and I am stunned at how unready both local businesses and local government are to ensure Camden becomes an inclusive area. The local obsession with heritage is continually used as a reason for doing nothing, yet developments like Spitalfields maintain the history while being a joy to visit as a disabled person. At least one of the bars listed above had access features taken out during their refit, as have many other local businesses. I fully understand the drive to maintain Camden’s original feel and also want Camden to remain “Camden”, but everyone involved with promoting this part of London and all the businesses within the area must start working to make Camden accessible to anyone who either lives here or visits. I am currently working with several Camden businesses, from key players Stanley Sidings to much smaller concerns, who are committed to changing things so hopefully this situation will improve.
    I hope that everyone reading this will agree that in the year 2014 the fact that Camden Town is known throughout the world as one of the least disabled friendly areas in London is something that everyone involved in running this vibrant area should be ashamed of, and an issue that they should be keen to remedy as soon as possible. So while turning Camden into just another trendy hotspot might not be a desirable, there are things that this part of town could learn from the “hipsters” and their haunts.
    Come one Camden, it is possible to maintain your atmosphere and heritage AND be accessible to everyone!

  • Schnauzer Minelli

    Some good points here. Ad 8: I think most parts of North London (at least the ones you are referring to here) are simply too expensive to be Shoreditchified (or shall we say gentrified). Shoreditch anno 2000, Dalston anno 2007, Clapton 2012… (the list is open-ended) have all been following the same pattern.

  • Tim

    Maybe the point is that the ‘Shoreditchification’ of an area makes it so boring. Better to be vibrant and colourful and economically productive than a deserted high street with boarded up chain stores – but there’s so little individuality in places that get ‘Shoreditchified’. Wonder around Brick Lane and you could be in Berlin, or Wiliamsberg, or Paris etc. Kids and adults wearing the same ‘vintage’ brands, copying the labels, consuming the same media etc etc. It’s just another version of an identikit British suburban high street with its Boots, McD, M&S etc.

    I think what people bemoan most of all about Shoreditchification is that it tends to suck the individual character and distinctiveness from an area

  • Michelle Olley

    Or… Are all the hipster haters jealous that they can’t grow those ‘burst sofa’ beards? (Insert ‘wink’ emoji here)

  • Phil

    I couldn’t be arsed to read it, but I do enjoy laughing at hipsters because they all look and act like dicks.