Super Bike:
I purchased new brake pads for the bike, after very nearly running into a dog this afternoon. A very big / very dim darting-this-way-that-way dog. Thankfully he wasn’t a biter or a chaser. The brake-pads are twice as long as normal pads, and claim super-effectiveness in wet weather. Twice as expensive too, at twelve pounds for four. But now I’ve fitted them I can stop on a sixpence. The old ones were just that bit too worn out to just adjust. The Winter’s accumulated mud is off the bike, and the WD40 in on. Super bike! Very much so; as European bureaucrats are meddling with regulations again. All electric-powered bicycles sold in the UK after June must be crippled; the pedals must be turning at all times to keep the motor running (the battery runs down quicker when there’s lots of stop/start, so this seems likely to severely reduce a bike’s range). What will disabled people do? Anyway, bikes sold before that date will continue to be legal. Phew. Looks like I’ll be riding mine for the next fifty years; by which time we’ll have nano-batteries the size of a pea, if not anti-grav deflectors to shift stray dogs out the way.

Someone asked me what “Gentrification” is. A viable creative industries sector entails having somewhere creatives want to live and work. How we carve out such a space is part of what might be called “pre-gentrification”; the psycho-geographic and physical ‘retrofit’ of an otherwise ‘undesirable’ area, led by creatives and then by a wider spectrum of younger professionals, and which eventually allows the wider middle-class to move in and so demand better local services such as schools and police. But how to spot the area before it happens? Here are my suggestions….

1) Affordable period Edwardian and Victorian properties which can be either renovated for character or given a radical retrofit to a more modern & minimalist look. The suburbs and new-build 80s/90s identikit housing-estates are not appealing to the pioneers of gentrification. Why is this? Partly because they can’t afford them, partly because the ‘design’ of most new-build housing was/is so banal and mums-y. But mainly because the affordability and density of older housing means that there is more chance of a “ball starting to roll” as like-minded people start to gravitate to the area. Partly also because “the ball can roll faster” due to the greater turnover of houses for sale. The ability to easily rent at low cost means creatives & lesbigays can “try before they buy”. Changing demographics can also make an area ripe (eg: lots of pensioners, at a time when jobs are fairly abundant and new households are forming), as can proximity to a commercial centre with many older and under-used “character” buildings. Traffic-jams & unreliable public transport on certain routes into a city can mean people are more likely to want to live in the inner city, near where they work. If house prices are rising the pioneers may take the risk, and they may be aided by speculative builders refurbishing dilapidated houses.

2) Easy access to good public transport & cycle-paths. Many young professionals take the train, bus and/or bike to work, so reliable transport links and clean/refurbished stations are important. Speedy links into the heart of other big (creative) cities are important too. Pleasant & varied green spaces, access to “get away from it all” active outdoor sports in wild/unspoiled areas. Local water features such as canals and lakes are an advantage since developers deem them important at a later stage.

3) Local universities, but with the “student ghetto” area at a safe distance away. Good local nightlife options, but again at a safe distance away.

4) It looks good on paper, so look for the key sign; the arrival of the ‘pioneers’: artists, photographers, media freelancers. Spotting this initial ‘drift in’ may be difficult; most commercial artists and creatives won’t have a very high profile at first as they are sensibly fearful of crime in a run-down area. Watch for new discreet nameplates on doors leading to above-shop offices and studios, using funky names & fonts. Look for web-site addresses on the windows above shops. Renovation of houses and setting up of home-offices may also be discreet for reasons of safety. Only much later comes the confidence to openly display upper-middle class pretensions and to let it be known that you have ?20k of hi-tech professional gear lying around. Watch for the pioneer creatives actually buying property rather than renting. Watch for them spending valuable leisure time in going out and ‘networking’, and find out how easy they find it to hook into existing networks. Ask yourself what sort of people these are; different strata of the creative class have different characteristics. Do they contribute their time and expertise to the local community? Do they have stamina and know-how?

5) A few hardy professionals start to venture into the area, again rather discreetly, perhaps encouraged by sympathetic regeneration projects alongside genuine grassroots community activism (not to be confused with a Council’s fly-by-night “consultation exercise” with befuddled local residents). Professional-looking independent web-sites appear from nowhere, promoting the area. Speculative developers start to convert spaces into upmarket studio-flats; the property is cheap, yet they can get the same rent as in more developed cities.

6) Independent retailers move into / start up in an area. Cafe-bars, local coffee shops, clothing alterations services, cycle shops, and good-quality florists appear. Craftsmen like carpenters and decorators find their services are in strong demand as house refurbishment increases. Chains may start exploratory “Lite” version of their shops. An open wi-fi network may appear, without a password. All this is evidence of a healthy combination of: a) young no-kids professionals & couples with a relatively high disposable income; and b) downshifters who have either sold a higher-priced property or have inherited, and who are now “taking a chance” by investing the cash in an area their intuition tells them is ‘up and coming’. Employers start to report to the Chamber of Trade that the local professional skills shortage is easing, suggesting that the area is not just being colonised as a ‘commuter dormitory’. The Council suddenly wakes up (too late) to the possible need for a “Creative Industries Strategy”. Both the creatives and the older residents start to complain about “yuppies” and steeply rising house prices. Local universities and hospitals find attracting students suddenly becomes easier. The area becomes “desirable”; with “buzz”, yet also enough middle-class people to force the more robust policing of local crime.