The causes of the London riots which tore through Hackney two years ago have been much debated but new details of the flashpoints continue to emerge.
Last month a jury decided Mark Duggan, the man whose death triggered the nights of unrest and anarchy, had armed himself with a loaded pistol just 15 minutes before he was shot dead by police.
Hackney was one of the areas worst hit by the chaos which ensued. In the historic and civic centre of the borough, Mare Street and the Narroway, shops were ransacked in an unprecedented outburst of violence.
At the time the Hackney Citizen described “the clatter of helicopters overhead, the smell of burning vehicles and dark smoke haze”.
Businesses were boarded up, shutters were pulled down and shops closed early. No wonder takings were poor that week, and the economic climate combined with the rise of the Westfield shopping centre in Stratford have not helped matters for small businesses in the area.
The memories of the riot nights are still raw, so it’s no wonder the small independent local traders in the Narroway feel like it’s a slap in the face that the council has decided to plough most of the £2million it secured ostensibly to help businesses harmed during the riots into creating a swanky new fashion hub for big and expensive designer clothes retailers in the railway arches nearby. The kind of retailers who can probably afford to look after themselves, one might think.
It is the type of scheme that seems tailor made to inflame those who believe there is some organised programme to gentrify the borough, price out the poor and extirpate all traces of old Hackney.
The scheme has even been billed as east London’s version of Carnaby Street – a slightly outdated comparison perhaps as that street was big in the 1960s, but the impression remains that this new shopping destination will not be a place for everyone or in keeping with Hackney’s democratic, pluralistic vibes. It will be an exclusive hub for the well heeled, newer residents.
As such, the scheme generates the same kind of passions as the controversial plans for a private gated community in the heart of Dalston did when they were tabled recently.
The council says the fashion hub will help create jobs for local people, but the car garages that were there before did that too.
Our borough is changing fast, and some change is inevitable, and not all change is bad. But change that locks out part of the population, the older part that feels it cannot recognise its own area anymore, will only breed jealousy and frustration, the very emotions that helped fan the flames of the riots themselves, not that this should be any excuse for violence.
If the council wants to help local businesses it could start by focussing on the ones that are already here and struggling to survive.