Director Zed Nelson, better known for his photography, debuts his filmmaking skills in this feature-length documentary. THE STREET, specifically Hoxton Street, nestled in one of London’s once most impoverished boroughs is slowly evolving with the arrival of newcomers from artists to city corporations until, to its established residents, the street becomes something they no longer recognise.
Littered with talking heads, generations of Hoxton Street residents weather the closure of local businesses and the influx of craft beer shops and “trendy” cafés. The street becomes home to two clashing worlds; the people rooted through generations and outsiders trying to find spaces to live affordably in an extortionately expensive city.
Nelson works carefully to approach the subjects without an agenda, he offers each person an ear and an unbiased angle, allowing the audience to make up their own minds. In the shadow of imposing scaffolding and surrounded by the hum of construction work the street, like a kettle, comes to a boil in the run-up to the Brexit referendum. Tensions run high between the locals and the new residents, both struggling to see eye to eye with the increased gentrification of Hoxton, one half feeling pushed out and alienated and the other desperate to make a living somewhere affordable. But where the artists go, corporate follows, and the street is hit with more upheaval as large insurance company Aviva buy up a huge chunk of the square.
What ensues is an ‘us and them’ mentality, a constant harping back to “the good old days” and a constant fight against inevitable change. What Nelson really excels at here is his ability to subtly interweave opposing views without challenging his subjects. As an owner of a pie shop talks about the wonderful sense of community back in the day, a black woman talks of fearing for her life and how much safer she feels now. What it boils down to for many of the residents is the question of who is in charge of gentrification? As housing prices skyrocket in the capital and more people are forced to move or become homeless, there’s one thing the Hoxton Street residents do agree on, there needs to be government accountability.
What Nelson has offered us is a small piece of an ever-expanding puzzle, spanning London’s boroughs and beyond. As London outprices its creatives, new business owners and locals alike, it allows corporations to move in just behind them, making the city’s periphery even greater, something that is sure to result in increased homelessness and further inflation of property prices. While the consensus of the Hoxton “locals” is that the street is no longer a home they recognise, more importantly, it’s a home that doesn’t want any of us living there.