An activist group known as Class War led a protest outside London’s popular Cereal Killer Cafe at the end of September. The demonstration, which involved paint bombs, graffiti and pounding on store windows, was part of a larger movement against gentrification and rising house prices in London, notably in the trendy East End. Similar complaints against gentrification have been common among those living in New York City and any other city where established communities live in fear of being priced out of their homes. The issue with the protest outside the Cereal Killer Cafe is that independent businesses are not the source of gentrification. Rather, they are merely a symptom of it. Instead of harassing business owners who — much like the demonstrators themselves — are trying to make a living, protesters should target the government and attempt to establish more social housing in overpriced neighborhoods.
The Cereal Killer Cafe charges £3.70 — $5.63 — for a medium-sized bowl of cereal. Of course, charging more than $5 for a bowl of cereal is within most definitions of the word “unreasonable,” but that is not the problem. Protesters have said, “We don’t want luxury flats that no one can afford. We want genuinely affordable housing. We don’t want pop-up gin bars or brioche buns — we want community.” Their fears over affordable housing are entirely substantiated; London has been facing a housing crisis for the past several years, with the price of an average home rising by more than 20 percent every year. It is estimated that the city needs to be building 63,000 new homes a year to meet demand, yet only about a third of that is being constructed. But cafes like Cereal Killer are the wrong targets for the protesters ire. Cafes and shops like these can only stay in business if they generate enough revenue to sustain them. That revenue comes from the surrounding area. It follows, then, that the stores are not the issue; the rising price of apartments are. Instead of going after businesses, protesters need to start petitioning for better social housing.
It is interesting to see that there has been no backlash for London Mayor Boris Johnson’s recent plan for the Bishopsgate Goodsyard, an 11-acre development plan for a series of luxury flats. More concerningly, there has been anti-immigrant rhetoric coming from the protesters, with some quoted as saying, “Our communities are being ripped apart — by Russian oligarchs, Saudi Sheiks, Israeli scumbag property developers, Texan oil-money twats and our own homegrown Eton toffs.” A cure for the London housing bubble will not come from xenophobic rhetoric, nor will it come from violence misdirected at small business. It can only come from directed petitions to the government and an increase the amount of public housing. And the Cereal Killer protesters, in turning immediately toward violence, are in no way helping their case.
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Adnan Zarif is studying away at NYU London this semester. Email him at [email protected].