The demolition of the huge building is one of many changes included in the Southwark Council 15-year plan [la autoridad local de dicho distrito londinense], which was introduced in 2010 and sparked a process of rapid gentrification. Upon completion, the project will have created several apartment blocks (some of which are already built) containing 5,000 new flats, some priced at more than £ 1 million. In 2016, a £ 20 million leisure center was opened right next to the roundabout. Southwark Council states that these changes bring tremendous benefits to the community. But many local merchants are experiencing first-hand what urban “transformation” does to those for whom it is not specially designed. It begs the question: what community?
The Elephant & Castle shopping center is one of the last remnants of the old Elephant & Castle. Built more than fifty years ago, it connects to the Northern subway line and uniquely serves the area’s Latin American community with shops and restaurants. Elephant & Castle has been home to a large Latin American community since the 1970s, when many came to the city from Chile and Argentina fleeing political unrest. If you want to learn Spanish, go to Elephant & Castle. If you like to eat ceviche, go to an Elephant & Castle restaurant. Southwark is now the only London borough that recognizes Latin Americans as a distinct cultural group. In the last ten years, however, many Latin Americans have struggled to continue living in the area as the city council demolishes social housing and increases private rents. Home prices at Elephant & Castle have risen 76% in the last decade, according to Hamptons International. When the 2018 teardown was approved, merchants were promised new spaces, but they are still waiting and the building will soon no longer be there.
In 2018, the Southwark city council voted to demolish the mall. Thus also approving the eviction of more than a hundred suppliers who have worked there for years. After a controversial process in which some councilors resigned, the real estate developer Delancey won the contract, committing to convert the land on which the shopping center sits into a “new urban center.” Phase one is now complete and saw the creation of 374 floors, as well as the new leisure center and a gigantic supermarket.
Phases two and three involve the construction of 979 apartments, 330 of which will be “affordable rental” housing (defined as market rent of up to 80%) or “social rental” housing for low-income people. A new university campus for the University of the Arts London will also be built on the site. After an unavoidable delay due to the coronavirus, the mall vendors were asked to leave by September 24 to carry out the demolition shortly after.
Southwark Council is not the only local authority charged with what some have called social cleansing through redevelopment plans. In response to central government cutbacks, many London city councils have turned the areas they oversee into profit machines targeting wealthy tenants rather than the people who live there, often using privately owned companies to fund the gaps. This will only get worse thanks to the coronavirus and unexpected expenses that have left many boards at risk of bankruptcy.