Regenerating Southwark: urban renewal prompts social cleansing fears

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Regenerating Southwark: urban renewal prompts social cleansing fears
The Heygate estate in Walworth
Regenerating Southwark: urban renewal prompts social cleansing fears
The Heygate estate in Walworth

The London borough of Southwark has become a prime site for the capital’s housing crisis rage. From unsold £50m apartments at the top of the Shard to the redevelopment of postwar municipal estates, its 28.5 sq km (11 sq miles) spreading south from the Thames attract claims that London is becoming a high-rise, high-cost city that puts the wealthy first.

It was in Southwark where spikes embedded beside the doorway of a block of flats to deter rough sleepers triggered a storm on Twitter. The council made news last year when it auctioned two houses for nearly £3m, prompting protesting squatters to move in and accuse it of social cleansing. Throughout this century the slow death of Southwark’s 1970s neo-brutalist Heygate estate has divided opinion about the built environment, urban communities and the treatment of the poor.

The borough contains some of the starkest contrasts between the glistening, gentrifying new London that sucks in global wealth and an older, wearier one that seems at risk of being devoured. Close by London Bridge station, the White’s Grounds council estate, though pleasant and well maintained, stands in telling contrast to the reclaimed Bermondsey Street with its White Cube art gallery, stylish restaurants and boutique hotel. []

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