Gentrification is the name given to the process by which the original working-class inhabitants of an area are displaced and the whole social character of the neighbourhood is changed. The ‘gentry’ are members of the middle classes: professionals and managerial people.
Cowley, J. (1979). Housing for People or Profit? London: Stage1.
The film Sunset Block is a personal response to, and a sense of foreboding about, the ongoing construction of speculative high-rise apartments in my neighbourhood. This mushrooming of 18-storey and higher buildings has reduced the amount of sunlight reaching our community gardens; denied us our sunsets; and will haunt our nightscape in the years ahead.
Begun in 2018, this latest phase of the regeneration scheme at the Elephant and Castle, where I live, is a major part of the gentrification process in this part of South London. Social housing has been demolished to be replaced by a forest of high-rise blocks of luxury flats. Working-class communities have been forcibly dispersed and their place taken by affluent residents, alongside new niche businesses to service them.
Arne Sjögren, Sunset Block, 2020-21
As each new high-rise apartment block loomed up to dominate the skyline, we realised that from the early afternoon onwards they were casting a shadow on both the local nature garden and part of our community park. Furthermore, we can no longer see the sun set from our homes as the sun is hidden from view big the tower blocks as it drops in the west. The volunteer gardening group in our local park and nature garden has had to gain new knowledge about how plants and their root systems respond and adapt differently to shade and penumbra. For example, changes in red and blue light caused by the effects of shade trigger shade-avoiding plants to elongate their stems and try to grow into more light. This spring, the gardeners plan to replant the affected spaces with new, shade-tolerant plants and shrubs.
Gentrification has changed the nature of our local micro-ecology, lost us our sunlight, transformed our night sky, and may have other unforeseen consequences – hence my acute sense of unease and foreboding in the future.
Arne Sjögren is a filmmaker and researcher whose multimedia practice explores fictionalised responses to historical events as seen from multiple and differing perspectives. Based on family interviews, family archives and personal memories, he uses intermedial assemblages to explore a variety of individual narrative voices that intersect with the wider historical context. He completed a practice-based PhD in 2021 at the University of Westminster, London, UK. He is a co-founder of Hyphen Journal and is part of its editorial collective.