"There's no need to be an asshole, you're not in Brooklyn anymore"
No Destruction, Foxygen
I've been thinking lately about the cost of living in London and, in particular, how long I can make it here. It seems to be a feeling shared by many in my age group (late 30s, early 40s) who don't own property and live in large metropolitan cities in western countries. Do we rent until the end, or do we try to get a property in a smaller town, with all the advantages and disadvantages that it brings?
In many ways, I've been lucky since my return to London in December 2014. Six days after my arrival I'd found temporary work at a recruitment agency and didn't have to worry anymore about my finances. Then, a few weeks later, my boyfriend and I found a small but decent flat by Victoria Park to rent (not far from where we used to live a few years ago, before I took my sabbatical in Brasil.) It's a neighbourhood I've lived in for ten years, and which I adore, so I was grateful to get a new flat there without much hassle. But the rent price, the rent prince... We now pay nearly 30% more for a one bedroom flat in a tower block than we did ten years ago for a two-bedroom in the same area.
Changes are noticeable everywhere in London. Dropping out of London's rat race for a year in Brasil was equivalent to me to coming off a drug. I now feel more critical to what I see around me, especially in this part of London.
When we first moved to the Eastend, Victoria Park was abandoned and unused. This community was predominantly made up of working class families. A young American artist made the news when she was stabbed one early morning while jogging because nobody saw anything. Soon, though, the park began to change. It won a fund for its redevelopment. Its café was rented out to a new owner and a popular organic café was born (one that I admittedly love.) Popular music festivals made their home in the park during the summer. The young artists and hipsters from Hackney cycled down the canal to enjoy it and, before long, the London Olympic was announced next door.
The area had regenerated; my partner and I started feeling at home.
Nowadays, you have to take a moment to check the paths in the park before you start running - there are joggers and cyclists everywhere. And they are all so busy with their iPods and conversations, you could be easily run over. And they are not the students and artists from yesteryear - they are money people in expensive sports gear who bought up everything because, I assume, they don't want to live in Canary Wharf, which is just down the road, or in Chelsea, because they can't afford it yet or because the Eastend is just too cheap to ignore and, in their eyes, a good long term investment.
I don't blame these rich people for wanting to live here - if I could, I'd buy a place too! But the problem is that rent has now gone up, to reflect the price these wealthy people are willing to pay.My boyfriend recommended I check out Benjamen Walker's Theory of Everything podcast. It's a funny, thought-provoking listen. Benjamen's latest podcasts will resonate in particular with New Yorkers: the series, "New York After Rent", looks at the rapid commodification of NYC since 2008 - the year of the financial crash but also the year Rent, the musical, came off stage. His main theory is that Airbnb is all to blame and he peppers his podcasts with some funny stand up such as the one by performer Penny Arcade ("We all came to New York to escape the popular people in high school... and now they are here, and everywhere!") Penny also makes fun of all the cupcakes being sold in NYC. She calls it OCD, Obsessive Cupcake Disorder. The Big Cupcake has supplanted the Big Apple, she says, and New York is no longer the place outsiders go to reinvent themselves - it's the place where the ordinary go to replicate the places they come from. The latest podcast also has a melancolic essay by writer Tim Kreider, who talks about being exiled to one of NYC's less popular neighbourhoods and still having to share a flat with a roommate as a 40-something year old.Meanwhile, down the street from us in London, an old estate agency has shut down. A few days ago I noticed some signs going up on its store front - coffee signs. Now I've noticed a wooden counter being added, leather sofas and a sink. Another cafe will soon join the many that recently popped up around Victoria Park. We'll never run out of cupcakes.