I imagine I'm like most people in that I mooch along Lower Clapton Road sometimes noticing the shops but rarely lifting my eyes to the floors above them or seeing them as part of a single parade within a built entity in the form of a large block.
It's been years since an estate agent planted a sign heralding a "former toilet" above what was, indeed, the site of a defunct public lavatory at the confluence of Mildenhall and Millfields Roads - nearly ten years, would you believe. In 2011, an architect's design appeared in virtual form along with plans. There was a public consultation. But 18 months later nothing had happened and went on not happening until suddenly, recently... serious construction action! Will it look like what was envisaged five years ago? Will anyone who isn't absolutely loaded be able to afford to live there?
In July 2006, exactly ten years ago, the beautiful but disused Clapton Federation Synagogue on Lea Bridge Road was knocked down. The site has stood empty ever since until, at last, it is being redeveloped on behalf of the North London Muslim Housing Association. A microcosm of demographic change in Clapton on one small piece of East London land.
I often run past these flats when striking out for the far north in the form of Tottenham Lock and beyond (why, sometimes even unto distant Enfield). I have to remind myself that once there was nothing much where the development known as The Wharf E5 has now sprung up, at least as far as I can remember - and it's amazing how quickly I forget such things.
I recently learned that around a third of local households rent privately, a substantially higher percentage than in London as a whole. The same 2011 ward profile data also reveal that over a third of local households - by which I mean those in the Leabridge and Hackney Downs wards are one person households and 15% are lone parents households. Add those together and just about 50% of local households contain only one adult.
Residents are being encouraged to take part in a Question Time style debate about the future of the borough. It is being held to launch a major, year-long resident engagement programme during which the Council aims to talk to thousands of people about their experience of the rapid social and economic changes that have affected the borough in recent times.
All of this is true. The debate is being held at the City Academy on 18th March, and if you want to be in the audience you'd better move fast because the last time I looked there were only 58 tickets left. My particular interest in the event is that I will be chairing it in my capacity as long-term Hackney resident (I think it's 34 years), writer of the Guardian's On London column and author of this blog.
I've recently been getting up to speed with the slow pace of Boris Johnson's rather limited measures to improve life for London's private renters, so it's instructive to see what Hackney Council is doing in this area. The private rented sector has been increasing across the capital during this century, and now accounts for more than a quarter of all its households.
It's sad that the Grade II listed Bishops Wood almshouses are to be sold to developer after standing on their site next to the pond for centuries. Just how sad will ultimately depend on what is built in their place. The Hackney Citizen reported in February that any buyer would have to confrom to strict conservation rules, but the aesthetics of a new development will only be only one consideration. Another will be the affordability of the new homes. Will many, if any, be within the price range of people on average or low incomes?
The re-birth of Chatsworth Road Sunday market has been the most conspicous example of our neighbourhood's so-suddenly visible gentrification over the past couple of years, and typifies its pros and cons. On the one hand, the market has brought new energy and variety to the area. On the other, its posh breads and fancy cheeses are too expensive for many local people, while its retro clothes and artefacts reflect very particular tastes. The big problem with gentrification is that the improvements it brings can be of little use to many residents of the area affected, and even do them real harm as rents and prices rise on the incoming tide of affluence.
May I call you by your first name - we've never met - yet from reading your blogs I feel that I know you.
Thought I'd drop you a line to reel one off about the lack of family homes in the Clapton Pond area. The small patch of ground bordered by Leabridge Rd to the north, Lower Clapton to the west and Chatsworth to the east.
I have been living on Thistlewaite Road for a few years now and the time has come to move from our 2 bed flat to a larger house with garden as the children get older.
The problem we have been finding is lots of the houses that do come up for sale are very quickly snapped up by developers and carved up into flats. This is frustrating us beyond belief - we have a our son at Millfields and don't want to leave the area.
Other houses that we've seen are set at an astronomic asking price - we suspect completely over inflated by the ruthless estate agents - and don't hang about long before some cash buyer steams in with a deal and takes it.
I must seem like a right old whinger. But what I'm driving at is that we don't want the remaining properties to be 'multiple occupancy dwellings', as I believe they are referred to by building control. There is very little in the way of housing ladder left to climb.
Parking becomes an issue, clusters of over flowing dustbins in front gardens, short let tenants not really caring about the neighbourhood ...
Do we smell a conspiracy between the local building control and said 'developers'? Of course, we'd never know for sure...
I really hope I can find an affordable house in the area because I've come to like living here and Thistlewaite residents are a friendly bunch.
If only I'd had the foresight to buy here 30 years ago when I could have got a whole house for £1000!
Thanks for listening
Thanks to you for writing, and I'm sorry for taking so long to respond. The truth is I don't really know the answers to your questions and haven't yet found time to look into them properly. What I do know is that in London there is a simultaneous demand for larger, family-friendly homes (overcrowding is a terrible problem) and more single-person units because more and more people are living alone. Maybe the Council could offer its view. That would at least be a start I'll ask.