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Pop-up shops and the decay of social provisions

30 Jun

As if you didn’t need another reason to hate hipsters . Especially the London hipsters.

The decomposition of social provision is being given a “trendy” spin by the new trend of “pop-up” shops in London which take over disused buildings for a very short period after established shops and social provisions have closed down. According to the article:

Recessions don’t usually create distinctive new spaces. The “new” capital skyline now under construction is mostly made up of buildings shelved during the first phase of the Great Recession, and at this rate London as it “should” have been in 2010 won’t be finished for some years yet – something even more true of the cancelled skyscrapers of Leeds or Manchester.

Yet there is one obvious offspring of the collapse of the old model: the pop-up. The japery of the term – oh, look, what used to be a wasteland has now got an organic hot dog company on it! – makes clear the sort of thing we’re dealing with, part of the mental regression of a generation elsewhere bent on reviving cupcakes. Pop-ups are fun! A railway yard with boutique shops! A “shopping village” on a council estate! An arthouse cinema in an abandoned petrol station! A burger bar in an Asian women’s advice centre! (The last of these, recently opened in Hackney as “The Advisory”, is surely one of the most offensive: the decay of social provision given a fun, ironic spin.)

Pop-ups, which in the UK are tellingly mostly London-based, purport to be an example of doing things differently. Rather than another chain store, luxury apartment block or more trading floors, a pop-up scheme will, in theory, produce some kind of a social space – a cinema or a gallery, usually more esoteric than the average restaurant or bar.

Some of these are functions that would once have been taken on through squatting – and sometimes still are, as at Open House, a social centre recently and precariously opened in London’s Elephant & Castle, an area torn apart by rampant gentrification, where estates are flogged off to developers with zero commitment to public housing and the aforementioned “shopping village” is located in a derelict estate. In this bitterly contested environment, Open House has been genuinely trying to resist this process and think of non-temporary alternatives to the current malaise – but unlike a pop-up vintage clothes shop, it’s unlikely it would have received planning permission.

Unlike squats, which aim to hold on to spaces for as long as possible, pop-ups are, by their very definition, temporary. They’re urban placeholders, there to fill the space until the market picks up – which in London is starting to occur in the most terrifying, nothing-has-been-learned way, discounting the idea that pop-ups have a tangible, permanent effect.

Rather than the Great Recession appearing as a series of gaping, rotting scars in the urban fabric, which would at least have the virtue of honesty, it is creating a series of spatial gap years, where people have a bit of fun and learn a few skills which they can eventually put to more usual profit-making service.

I have some thoughts on this. One of them is that for some people this casualisation of business might be a way to try and get around business rates etc if they don’t have enough start-up capital to succeed, so casualisation might be affecting the small business owning classes and the aspiring small business owners in the same way that it is affecting temporary workers, tenants and all other aspects of society. Of course it means that anyone who works for them is in an even more precarious position than they are, and anecdotal evidence suggests that a lot of these shops are using “volunteers” from the job centre or people can afford to work for free anyway.

However, for a lot of them they DO have enough capital to start a proper business should they wish to and this “pop up” business is a way of them testing the water – of course it also has the effect of increasing gentrification, pricing people out of their own areas in the same time as making a load of hipsters think about how ironic and cool the whole thing is. A lot of people see no problem with gentrification … as long as they can afford what these shops are selling. What did that Palestinian carpenter say. “Man cannot live on cupcakes, chorizo and cranberry flatbreads and organic soaps alone”. It’s great if youve got money to spend, not so much if you’re on the dole or trying to feed your family.

Austerity affecting all aspects of life among the working and middle classes

2 Mar

This is not a theoretical post just an observation. Not only have good friends of mine and loved ones been affected by the cuts to disability benefits and so on you can see the visible poverty even in relatively affluent areas like the one i live in, the large increase in the number of people homeless and seeking the assistance of food banks and the like. Despite what some people may think and what some bourgeois politicians may have us believe the economic conditions now affect all aspects of life in a profoundly depressing manner. This may be somewhat stating the obvious but a few things I have seen in the last few weeks (actually more than that but the other stuff is personal involving friends and family so I don’t really want to post it) have brought that point home.

Recently I was at a job interview in Slough for a teaching assistant position at a school, during this interview I was asked what I would do if one of the children had come to school hungry, which is a common occurence. We live in Britain ffs a first world country and there is no need apart from the so-called “logic of capital” for any child to go hungry.

The local synagogue run a service that provides meals for homeless people as well as items for needy families (without discriminating on the basis of religion) to cook themselves with, reading the newsletter I got from them this morning it said they were finding it impossible to cope with demand and the situation was expected to get significantly worse because of housing benefit cuts. Obviously the foodbanks and services provided by churches and mosques locally as well as similar services up and down the country will have undoubtedly seen a similar rise in demand. It is good that people are doing something but is it really a good thing that assistance that was provided by the state on a centralised basis is now returning to the realm of religion and small independent groups that dont have enough funds, and profit making “charities”?

It is something I dont usually like to write about or post about because I don’t even like thinking about the effects this stuff is having even though i can see it every day. Theres personal shit I could also post relating to this but I won’t. Not really comfortable with it. With the introduction of Universal Credit this will all get significantly worse with part-time workers being expected to look for jobs with more hours constantly. I think it is worth reposting Johnny Void’s excellent blog here which has links to anti-workfare and disability/claimants rights actions as well as lots of information about this stuff.

This post is not very long or very analytical because frankly I don’t like thinking about it at all but it does need to be pointed out that the fight goes on and people are trying to do something even if the victories are initially quite small.