By Adela Suliman
LONDON - Glassy skyscrapers and luxury apartment towers cast a shadow over an east London high street dotted with greasy-spoon cafes and launderettes, a "last bastion" against gentrification, according to a new film released in Britain on Friday.
London's growing financial district and a traditionally working-class neighbourhood sit awkwardly alongside each other in "The Street", a movie by documentary filmmaker Zed Nelson, who grew up in the area.
"Everything was being sold off to the highest bidder, that's what really inspired me to make the film," Nelson, 53, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.
"You end up with this increasing sense of inequality and I think lots of cities, not just in the UK but internationally, have experienced those kind of changes."
The film hones in on a community holding out against creeping gentrification and rising property prices. Traditional retailers, including a carpet shop and century-old bakery, close to make way for digital media start-ups and luxury apartments.
A lack of affordable social housing, the sale of land to property developers and a changing demography "put enormous pressures on communities" said Nelson, so that "long term residents feel increasingly alienated."
An average property price in the London borough of Hackney, where the film's Hoxton Street is located, is about 683,000 pounds ($876,000) according to real estate agent Foxtons, with some properties worth 2 million pounds ($2.6 million).
"The Street" touches on migration, Britain's 2016 vote to leave the European Union, rampant property development and the deadly 2017 Grenfell Tower fire in a London social housing block, casting a spotlight on the yawning social and financial divides across the city.
According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), income inequality among adults has risen faster in Britain than in any other developed country since 1975, with wealth disparities in the capital even more pronounced.
"Gentrification is ripping the heart out of communities in London and many of the UK's cities," said Wanda Wyporska, executive director of the Equality Trust, a charity that works to reduce economic and social inequality in Britain.
"The impacts are huge," she said and contribute to the inequality of housing, education and businesses.
The Mayor of Hackney, Philip Glanville, said the movie was an "incredible snapshot" of the street but noted that like many other parts of the capital the area was susceptible to change.
Glanville said he was working to make the neighbourhood fairer and to ensure "all our residents can benefit more equally from our growing local economy," noting that millions of pounds had been invested into local housing and businesses.
Nelson filmed the street over a four year period, watching change "lapping at the edges of the area" but said that gentrification was not all bad.
"The people that replaced these businesses aren't necessarily the villains of this piece, they were nice, well-meaning people starting independent businesses...ultimately the question is bigger," he said.
Change brings diversity, vitality and multiculturalism to cities, said Nelson, who hopes his film will draw attention to the pace of change and human impact on local communities.
"Ultimately it questions what kind of cities we want to live in," he said.
"Sometimes there's no going back."