New Urban Precincts I – Deptford, SE London

I’m fascinated by gentrification and by the creation of new urban and creative precincts through the rejuvenation of historical or post-industrial spaces. In this next series of posts, I will present photo-journals of at least half a dozen of these new urban precincts in a similar number of cities that I have travelled to in the last two (or more) years.

Note that new urban precincts are characterised (in my view) by the following:

  • A contrast in lifestyles and incomes
  • Ethnic diversity encroached upon by a often predominantly white or white-acting middle-classed “yuppie”community
  • Strong historical linkages to the city’s development
  • The co-location / co-incidence of arts and cultural activities, institutions and clusters
  • A marketing approach that stresses lifestyle, luxury, creativity, community
  • Often includes a waterfront living aspect
  • Rapid development of mixed-use residential complexes with pseudo-public spaces
  • Support from the city authorities, who often designate these areas as special development zones and provide some degree of funding or (tax) incentives to developers.

The first destination profiled is Deptford, straddled between the Lewisham and Greenwich boroughs in Southeast London; a rapidly gentrifying area and a place I called home for six months in late 2010-early 2011.

Map of Deptford. While the geographical boundary between Deptford and Greenwich is Deptford Creek, the purple line represents the administrative border between the boroughs of Greenwich and Lewisham (across which Deptford is straddled). [MAP UPDATED.]

A Stark Contrast in Lifestyles – Yuppie vs Lower-income

Ethnic Diversity – Caribbean, Persian, Turkish, Vietnamese, Nigerian, etc.

Historic Landscapes – The ancient church of St Nicholas

Waterfront Living – where the Deptford Creek meets the Thames

Gated Luxury Residential Communities facing the Mother Lode – Canary Wharf

Student Housing, also a Gated Community.
I lived here and while I was here, there was a gang-rape in the compound and two of my immediate neighbours’ rooms were broken into and robbed by someone with the keys. The company will not admit it, of course.  I moved out.

CCTV Cameras – ubiquitous symbols of a progressive modernity

New “Luxury” Development – Greenwich Creekside

Another New Luxury Development – Theatro

Yet Another New Luxury Development on its way (and this is just a sample).

Council Housing Estates – actually quite lovely architecturally, in my opinion.

Public Playground by the Council Housing Estates

Deptford High Street – a thriving, diverse ethnic community. This is Deptford Market.

Deptford Station – on Deptford High Street, again site of multiple crimes, though it was rapidly improving and gentrifying even when I lived there.

Island Buka Caribbean African Restaurant – a congregating place for the large Afro-Caribbean African community on Deptford High Street

LABAN Conservatory of Dance – designed by Herzog & de Meuron to be stunning and completely out-of-place, though it looks slightly out-of-place. 

Arts as the Gentrification Juggernaut – Creekside Artists

Arts as the Vanguards of Gentrification – Cockpit Arts

Arts as Gentrification’s Fore-runner – APT Gallery

Street Art Sort of “street art”

The Deptford Project – a community-run cafe on Deptford High Street, with lovely brunches catering to the hipster Goldsmiths College crowd.

The beautiful and tranquil churchyard of St Paul’s in Deptford, Spring

[Afternote on Marketing for North Deptford Developments:

  • “Bespoke, luxury, waterside living”
  • Proximity to the arts, with little reference to the area’s deep historical links as London’s historic shipyards from during the time of Elizabeth I Henry VIII.
  • Marketed as “Greenwich,” even though it is North Deptford, in order to avoid association with ethnic, lower-income Deptford that is adjacent to it and unavoidable
  • Total disregard for high levels of crime in the area.]

About Kennie Ting

I am a wandering cityophile and pattern-finder who is pathologically incapable of staying in one place for any long period of time. When I do, I see the place from different perspectives, obsessive-compulsively.
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2 Responses to New Urban Precincts I – Deptford, SE London

  1. Bill Ellson says:

    ‘North Deptford’ – never heard of it! Deptford is Deptford, plain and simple. The geographical boundary between Deptford and Greenwich is Deptford Creek. The purple line on your map is the administrative boundary between the Boroughs of Lewisham and Greenwich. Deptford and Greenwich has existed as places for hundreds of year, but the Boroughs are statutory corporations that have existed for less than fifty years.

    Not only have you put your ‘Greenwich’ label in the wrong place but you have labelled the Power Station canteen, which was demolished to build the student accomodation you lived in, as St Nicholas Church. St Nics is, as it has been for hundreds of years, at the western end of stowage.

    The gated student housing was actually ‘sold’ to Greenwich’s councillors as permeable development that would open the land up to the public, however the planners neglected to impose a condition removing ‘permitted development rights’ so the fences and gates went up two months after the blocks were completed. Not, as you realise, that this gave the occupants any real security.

    Island Buka is an African, not a Carribean restaurant. LABAN was most certainly not “designed by Herzog & de Meuron to be … completely out of place.” although it is stunning. The form and massing of the building reflects that of many local warehouses and cold stores that were still extant at the time it was designed. The concave west face of LABAN softens its main landward impact in much the same way as the landward impact of Cooper’s 1934 Borthwick Wharf
    was softened by staircases rising above the main parapet at each end.

    The arts in and around Deptford are a legacy of Goldsmiths College, Laban and most importantly in the Creekside area Rose Bruford College which was on Creek Road. The mural is not ‘Street Art’, but simply a poor quality mural attempting, but failing miserably, to imitate street art. The Deptford Project is a purely commercial venture and is not in any way ‘community-run’.

    Henry VIII opened his Royal Dockyard in Deptford in 1513, twenty years before Elizabeth was born. The site had been purchased by his father Henry VII in the 1490s, but shipbuilding in the area probably dates back a lot longer.

    Many of the developments in Deptford are marketed in asia, so anything on the Greenwich side of the Borough boundary is described as Greenwich. The Borthwick Wharf development is a prime example as I related here .

    Recorded crime in the area is not that high, mainly because the police keep the crime figures down by not recording it.

    • Kennie Ting says:

      Hi Bill, thanks for checking my facts and for the great background info! I have clarified all map labellings and made corrections. What I hoped to do was to remark on the oddness of the fact that part of Deptford (the Northern part) lies within the borough of Greenwich, and is being marketed (indeed, in Asia and the Middle East too, I’m sure) as “Greenwich” when in actual fact, it is worlds apart from Greenwich proper. My six months in the gated student dorm (actually less than that, as I traveled abroad incessantly each month) was too short a time to get a real sense of what’s going on in the area, and I wanted to capture some fleeting impressions of the contradictions of the place, and to compare these to changes happening in other cities I traveled through.

      My absolute favourite place in Deptford was the churchyard of St Paul’s – a rare spot of silence suffused with a deep sense of place. I remember standing at the gates on Deptford High last Spring, admiring the almond blossoms while everybody else dashed by behind me. The cafe at LABAN was another favorite haunt and I spent hours there working on my papers and wondering at the surreal picture of students twisting and stretching against that very angular lawn and stark post-port landscape of the Creek. Would love to go back to see what it’s like now.

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