Growing property prices threaten the things that make a diverse city such as the UK capital valuable in human terms

The news that London’s Chinatown is in danger of disappearing adds to the list of examples of the same fundamental issue, which is that growing property values threaten the things that make a city, in human terms, valuable. The doubling and more of rents and the pressure to convert restaurant space into residential property are causing long-established family businesses to close, social networks to break up and generic catering businesses with more financial muscle to move in. A famous and attractive manifestation of London’s celebrated diversity will dilute and fade.

A number of Chinatown’s businesses are reportedly for sale despite the area’s continued bustling popularity.
A number of Chinatown’s businesses are reportedly for sale despite the area’s continued bustling popularity. © Andy Hall for the Observer

Other examples include threats to markets and industrial space in other parts of the city, to the music shops of Tin Pan Alley, much-loved clubs or independent-spirited restaurants. There are the squeezing out of small but useful shops and other businesses, the city’s inability to house its poor, the exclusion by house price of the people who provide its services, from cleaners and carers to the designers and creatives who are said to add so much to London’s international lustre.

This is what happens when a city is driven overwhelmingly by the logic of investment, no matter by whom or for what purpose. It is the same logic that sees residential skyscrapers erected principally as investment vehicles rather than homes, as what the planner Peter Rees calls “stacks of safety-deposit boxes in the sky”. It creates the phenomenon of homes in the most desirable areas of the city being left empty most of the time, such that nearby shops and restaurants struggle to survive. ... Cities are dynamic. It is part of their ecology that places such as Chinatown come into being, flourish and then decline or move. London’s Chinese community was once more associated with the old dock area of Limehouse and it now goes far beyond its symbolic centre in Soho. If it’s a question of cuisine (which, in discussions about Chinatown, it often is), the best and most authentic examples are often found elsewhere.