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Friday, 3 April 2015

Chinatown and Central London's Soho: Why The Gentrification & Capitalism Is Destroying London's Cultural Vibrancy

The future of London's Chinatown is so worrying that in 5 years time, it may no longer exist anymore. That, or it is made up Western chains and shops, which have little or nothing to do with Chinese culture, society and identity. 

The landlords are cashing in on the hard work to create other businesses and outlets that would generate a lot more money and be able to pay off the rent. The heart of London is being ripped out of the communities in Central London by the way of corporatism and capitalism. Soho and Chinatown in Gerrard Street down Shaftsbury Avenue, are two of the most prominent cultural areas.

Source: Chinatown London, February 2008 by Martin Argles/The Guardian 

London is known to the world for their multicultural communities, landmarks and its rich diverse set of people, so to see some of it go, would mean it would become a metropolis where everything is the same and without the multiculturalism. In the 70s - early 00s, the likes of Frith Street, Soho, Gerrard St had an array of ethnic foods and restaurants. 

The utter selfishness and greed by the landlords, as well as big businesses, has led to the demise of Chinatown. There is no doubt that in their place there would be more betting shops, and perhaps a Starbucks and Tescos occupying the area as well. There are already 9 betting shops in Wardour Street, much to the detriment of Chinatown. 

The mass concentration of betting shops is quite despairing to see, that it is fast becoming a place known for gambling as it is to its food. It reminds me in a way to Macau with its gambling and slot machines. 

I've seen a few restaurants that have been closed down or are no longer in operation - only to be replaced by bookmakers such as Coral, Betfred, Paddy Power & Ladbrokes. 

One would ask, if the likes of Betfred and KFC can make enough money to cover the rent, why can't the Chinese restaurants? Well that's because the former pulls in more money as more people choose to eat at KFC then spend money on Chinese food in Chinatown's restaurants. And that's another issue: the price (and quality of the food). A lot of the food served is expensive and overpriced, although I had a nice meal for £4.50. With the betting shops, Chinese like to gamble. Too much.  

Image Source: Evening Standard 

Central London is not only an expensive place to shop and eat out, but also in terms of living & rental costs of home, retail and catering properties and businesses. 

By homogenizing and excluding diverse communities, diversity, in addition to the displacement of a community of people, who have made London their home for years, it then becomes devoid of culture, identity and creativity and in sharing that with outsiders. How boring would Central London be, if in every journey we take, we see and enter the same types of big corporate chain shops, products, with the same decor and appearance as the other shop, restaurant, cafe or eaterie? 

Why isn't Westminster council intervening and assisting the businesses in and around Soho and Chinatown around this issue? They should be doing all they can to preserve these areas and in helping out these people. But apparently, they appear to be 'powerless' and are allowing these changes to go ahead. 

These landlords do not care about the people or the community living and/or working within and around these areas - they are mainly interested in one thing, okay, make that two things: rent and money. As long as they get their rent, that's all that matters to them. To them, it's not about the people who work there, or the hundreds of visitors, who descend into Chinatown and Soho every week - they just want their money, and if they don't get it, they will shut these places down and to replace it with something else. 

But Chinatown is equally important to many Chinese living in London, especially myself. Some would ask 'if you want Chinese food, go to China', but that is besides the point. We want something that reminds us of our heritage, culture, roots, but something that doesn't revolve spending £500 or more on a ticket, just to go to China or Hong Kong to eat Chinese food and to experience the culture. 

For many Chinese of Hong Kong, China and British origin, Chinatown is our idea of 'home' and what it means to be Chinese living outside of our native land. And if it goes, then not only will it impact the UK economy and the numbers of tourists who flock into the city, its loss will be clearly felt by the London Chinese community, moreso. 

Yes, I do understand things are changing; there are times when things have to change, rather than for it to stay the same so that is becomes more progressive and to keep up with today's pace and trends. But when you take away the cultural aspects, instead of making things different and varied, as well as unique, what you end up with is practically the same exact thing and a clone of every other store and outlet as seen in Piccadilly Circus, Oxford Street and other parts of Central London.  

Chinatowns in Sydney, San Francisco and New York may be experiencing the same issues as London's, yet the situation with regards to high rent and property prices, isn't (probably) as severe's as London's. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't, I don't know for sure. 

And what's up with the M&M's store? I fail to see the reason for having it in Leicester Square. It would make more sense to have it in Oxford Street or Marble Arch, but to have it in Wardour Street, it looks totally out of place. 

London at the moment, has gone backwards; when we held the Olympic games almost 4 years ago, it was supposed to regenerate and invigorate the city in more ways than one, but beyond that, because of the rent and other things, central London is stagnating and not developing as much as it should do. It's certainly not the London I first remembered in the late 80s to early 2000s. And rest assured, unless it turns around its fortunes and more and more Chinese owned businesses spring up, Chinatown will be long gone. 

Mulitcultural london today is fast being replaced by corporate London; a London that cares more about making a profit than to champion, represent and meet the needs of its own people and its wider racial diversity. 

We cannot allow this trend to continue for years to come. 

*London Underground Chinatown, 1988 

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