Recently, CityMetric published an article entitled “What’s the matter with Sheffield?”, in which Jonn Elledge used the Centre for Cities data tool to show that Sheffield comes close to the bottom (out of the largest eight English cities outside of London) on almost every measure of economic performance, including business start-ups, GVA per worker, and workplace earnings. It also comes close to last on the ratio of public to private sector jobs and overall employment rates. Confusingly, Sheffield does pretty well on the education front, having a decent number of pupils achieving 5 A*-C GCSEs including Maths and English, having relatively few residents with no qualifications, and sitting comfortably mid-table for people with degree level qualifications. It also has two relatively big universities that are nationally and internationally respected, churning out as many graduates as the other large cities of the north. So, what’s going on here?
Gentrification seems to be happening in every big city right now. Large swathes of previously undesirable inner-city areas in old industrial cities have seen their residential demographics shift in the past 10-15 years; from poor people living in sub-standard (but cheap) accommodation – in old, predominately ex-industrial, crumbling, mostly-disused buildings – to young, wealthy, educated, liberal types who flood the areas with coffee shops, renovate the old buildings, and push up house prices. London has experienced this to a much greater extent than any other city in the UK, but it is definitely happening elsewhere, e.g. in Manchester and Birmingham.
There is a lot of anger surrounding these new residents. There are claims that they are “rich kids co-opting the lives of the poor”, trying out living in these areas like it’s some sort of novel educational experience in nostalgia slumming, but never really having to worry about poverty or destitution. There is also a claim that they are the gentriying foot soldiers of capitalism: they “make the first move into post-industrial, post-welfare state wastelands like brownfield sites and council housing estates and sow the seeds of cultural capital”, enabling developers to move in and build a bunch of expensive flats several years later.