Grenfell Tower stands in the middle of North Kensington, a short walk from Latimer Road tube. I say “stands” for the moment but it won’t last. This Tower of Horror will have to be demolished. And what will happen to the land?
I used to work in the shadow of Grenfell Tower. I was a Recycling Officer for Kensington and Chelsea Council and my office was next to Kensington Leisure Centre. That was nearly 15 years ago. Google Earth shows me the leisure centre’s been tarted up and it looks like my old office has been demolished. I suspect the new leisure centre and Grenfell Tower’s flammable facelift were part of the same sweep of gentification. It’s been going on for years in this area.
I loved working in that part of Kensington and Chelsea. I could walk there from my home in Shepherd’s Bush. I enjoyed walking to my office as folk went to work and dropped kids off at school. I loved listening to different languages and clocking a wonderful array of neat gardens and impressive window boxes. Residents were proud of their area. Affluent residents lived close to poorer families but I never felt this created a tension on the streets. People came together in shared spaces like Avondale Park on Walmer Road and Portobello Road market.
As I type I see that protesters are walking through streets near Grenfell Tower I know well. I walked them years ago. I knocked on doors and encouraged residents to recycle. Tonight’s protestors are urging the affluent residents to join their march for justice.
The coverage of this month’s London Bridge/Borough Market terrorist attack showed me an area of south London I no longer recognise. I lived in Borough almost 20 years ago. Borough Market has changed beyond belief because one one thing: gentrification. It’s the same gentrification I saw in Greenwich, Camden, Shepherd’s Bush, Soho, east London…all over the city.
Gentrification is not the main cause of the Grenfell Tower fire but it plays a part in this man-made tragedy. Gentrification equals profit for certain people but money counts for nothing when you’ve lost everything.