I wrote a Comment piece for the Guardian last week. You may know some of the places and people it refers to. Here it is, in full...
The other Sunday, lacking the will to cook, my wife and I faced a dilemma that couldn't have arisen a year ago. Which welcoming restaurant only a short walk from our front door would we tumble into with our kids? Across the road the reclaimed hulk of a once gunshot-scarred pub offered traditional roasts, a place next to a charity shop was dishing up homely stews and who knew what drooling delights might be served in the refurbished space above the much-loved corner shop where, unbelievably, we'd eaten grouse a few weeks before.
Unbelievably, because the nearest thing to a moor in our neck of the woods is Hackney Marshes, and because when I moved into our home in east London 22 years ago the idea of such a culinary option could only have been satirical. Nowadays, it's reality that invites parody. The speed and intensity of gentrification is amazing. How will EastEnders cope?
For three decades the venerable BBC soap has created an addictive micro-society of families, friends and feuds based on a beguiling national template for what a cockney is. But its new executive producer wants to close the gap between TV fiction and the great waves of actuality washing through this side of the capital. "It should feel more like London," he told the Radio Times. "It's been frozen in aspic for too long."
You can see what he means. While the show's bedrock institutions – the pub, the cafe, the market, the laundrette – have been bastions of continuity, the landscape surrounding Albert Square has shifted massively. The 2012 Olympics, that mother of all regenerations, was but a carnival phase of a much longer, slower process going back at least as far as the advent of Canary Wharf. Boris Johnson's wish for an airport in the Thames estuary may never come true but his dream of east London becoming a gateway for the footloose wealth of the world is widely shared.
Meanwhile, back on the ground, property prices prompt wonderment and dismay. Again, my own back yard illuminates. A two-bedroom flat in the street where the flames of riot burned bright in 2011 has recently fetched £425,000. Across the Marshes it's cheaper but a three-bed Leyton terrace needing major upgrades still costs more than £300,000. First-time buyers now look further afield, beyond the Olympic Park, seeking potential in places that, at the end of the last century, were laid economic waste to. Their arrival, whether from other parts of London or elsewhere, ensures an influx of vintage clothes emporia, militant cyclists, organic vegetarians and coffee fetishists – the advance guard of upward mobility.
It remains to be seen how these new elements are mixed into the EastEnders chemistry, but the dramatic potential is huge. Just look at real life. Who wins when a neighbourhood booms as suddenly and visibly as mine? One piece of received wisdom is that the soul goes from a place and the poorest are pushed out, but it's not that straightforward. Newcomers can bring energy and imagination. Private renters are threatened but social tenants are insulated against the market surge while middle-income home-owners may find they're sitting on a million pounds.
When Tesco moved in down my way the middle classes were appalled, but the corner shop adapted – even more deli cheese and fancy bread. And, by the way, it's not all lattes and sourdough pizza. The local retail offer (as they say) still includes chicken shops, betting shops and loan shops. The street scene still contains ragged people sifting through bins and plenty of long-term residents are struggling to make ends meet. You have to hope they gain more than they lose from the influx of retro cafes and young artists.
You have to smile too. "You won't be able to get an egg and chips round here soon," complained a friend, a council worker whose children have grown up with mine. But a young man we've both known since he was a little boy has transformed his family-run kebab takeaway, founded by his grandparents, into a stripped-out, sit-down joint, popular with twentysomethings, me and my children alike.
He wasted no time wooing what he called "the new Clapton", placing a Guardian on a window seat. Now, Latin American cuisine has turned up too, thanks to an enterprising Turk and a well-travelled Pole. They do a fine Cuban cocktail. The dry cleaner has plans to turn his basement into a speakeasy. The plotlines are endless and, Walford, they are waiting for you.
My point about long-term residents who are losing, or feel that they are losing, more than they are gaining from gentrification fever round here is one I'd like to explore further. You comments on the issue would be very welcome.