Wednesday 21 March 2018

Has your area hit Peak Gentrification?

If you're looking for a neighbourhood that's on the up, the proof is in the quality of its sourdough bread

Ambiance: Mulligan's pub in Stoneybatter
Ambiance: Mulligan's pub in Stoneybatter
Blackboard menu
Hipster dad

Sasha Brady

In the Dublin 7 suburb of Cabra, the queue for sourdough bread confirms it: gentrification has arrived. It was far from sourdough bread that Cabra natives were raised, but now, hordes of yummy mummies decked out in Lululemon yoga pants, car keys swinging in their hands and calling out to children named Izzy, Oliver and Oscar, queue outside the artisan produce shop on any given weekend.

Once inside they stuff their recycled shopping bags with sourdough, za'atar, manchego cheese and The Real Olive Oil Company produce. Dads in Toms with their newborns strapped to their chests enquire about the different coffee roasts of the day, while girls with short fringes and oversized coats discuss the flavour merits of vegan brownies while struggling to keep their French bulldogs from snaffling the gourmet Spanish chorizo.

Gentrification - defined as the process of renovating and improving a house or district so that it conforms to middle-class taste - is happening across Ireland's cities as people are increasingly priced out of buying properties in traditional middle class enclaves. Anecdotally, gentrification is associated with massively overpriced produce, and the wacky collision of show-off wealth with hippie principles of people who have 'notions'.

In Cabra, urban gentrification is colliding with the traditionally working class sentiment of the area. The northside neighbourhood where I grew up still inspires the odd joke whenever I tell strangers where I'm from, but now they're as likely to enquire after where they might pick up blood oranges as quip "mind your handbag".

Hipster dad
Hipster dad

Cabra is 'benefiting' from the spillover from neighbouring Stoneybatter, the extortionately priced inner-city area described by The Guardian newspaper recently as "little Williamsburg by the Liffey". It's a reference to the former run-down area of Brooklyn that was taken over by New York's trendy classes.

In the past I would have used the phrase "Stoneybatter people" as a moniker to describe those who go to music festivals solely to attend vegan cooking demonstrations and meditation classes. But now I am those people I ridicule. I have been mopped up by the growing trend for hipster hangouts and farmers markets, and gentrified.

The proof? I moved into a crumbling terraced house in Stoneybatter a few years ago just to be within walking distance from Lilliput Stores, a northside foodie mecca. Our house was falling apart. The front door refused to open and we had to leave the back window open so that we could climb through it to access our house. But I put up with the scraped knees and grazed hands - not to mention the security risk - daily just for the proximity it offered to toasted Comte sandwiches and great coffee. Yes, I was full of self-loathing, but that was a small price to pay for being able to buy Kombucha that had been fermented just minutes from my front door.

I finally broke it off with Stoneybatter for Phibsborough (also within the Dublin 7 area code) for a house with a door and a lock - only to find that gentrification is creeping in here too. My new local is a typical aul' fella's pub that's been transformed into a trendy sports bar, populated by well-manicured beards and decorated in bikes. The menu boasts brunch items such as poached egg and spicy jalapeño jam on homemade sourdough bread (possibly supplied by the artisan people in Cabra). A handful of similarly spirited places can be found in this thriving 'hood. Suddenly Phibsborough is an attractive destination.

But while I like the coffee and the gourmet cheese, the most attractive part about gentrified Dublin 7 is the fact that it still has grit. It hasn't been totally sanitised. It has the same old charms, just with better facilities. Old lads on the street still wind you up. Women stop to ask how your mam is. The same families are here. Community values haven't been choked out by neoliberal ideals. The yuppies aren't swarming the place like locusts yet and - Stoneybatter aside - the median house price hasn't increased exponentially. But it's only a matter of time, if last Sunday's sourdough queue is anything to go by. The arrival of the Luas in July may seal our fate.

And it's not just the cities - our commuter towns are also having their socks pulled up. Celbridge has a farmer's market. Damastown has a coffee roasters. Whatever about calling itself 'south county Dublin', Greystones is practically in Southern California. Last weekend a friend of mine was almost crushed by a Cargo bike in Limerick, and on it sat a man who was trying to cycle and down a green juice at the same time.

Wondering if your area is succumbing? Or, even worse, perhaps you are succumbing? Try this quick checklist for proof:

• How many times have you had to dodge a Deliveroo cyclist on your way home from work?

• How many twee messages written on blackboards outside cafes do you pass on your way to work?

• When was the last time you met your friends for breakfast or lunch? (Can you even remember, you've been brunching for so long?)

• How many times in work have you googled 'new pop-up restaurant' ahead of a catch-up with friends?

• Have you ever found your mind drifting at work to the Google image results page of French bulldogs?

• Is it true that five years ago you didn't even know how to spell avocado, and now you're filled with rage whenever the avocados from the local Tesco (that you wish was a farmer's market) fail the 'squeeze test'? How are you supposed to make your Happy Pear chickpea curry now?

It might sound nice on paper but gentrification has dark side.

In London, for example, the process has gone so far that it is becoming an exclusive enclave for the super-wealthy. The centre of the city is a giant upper-middle class neighbourhood where the rental market is being pushed to the fringes by an investor elite.

It seems, where gentrification is concerned, there is little middle ground. One day you're appreciating the vintage shops and poached egg brunches, the next you're bursting an aorta whenever the rent is due. In a gentrified way, of course.

Irish Independent

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