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The Cereal Cafe in Shoreditch, London, daubed with paint following anti-gentrification protests last month. DM pic

So often, coming back from the United Kingdom, I would hear of the term “gentrification”. Read the Western online newspapers, and you would come across this term being bandied about. Something very much associated with the increasing cost of living of a city, or a specific area, and, one word that has been thrown around following the recent attack on a cereal café in London.

A café, completely harmless, had represented the problem of the increasing standard of living and also one that highlights the plight of the lower-income community in having no place to stay.

Reflecting on the thoughts and issues highlighted in an article surrounding gentrification in the UK, I cannot help but reflect and think of the situation in Kuala Lumpur. I know in recent months, the problem of the rising cost of living and rising value of properties in KL has been brought forward to the attention of many, with the publication of Khazanah Research Institute’s report on the affordability of houses in KL.

Being a fresh graduate, and having to invest in a home in the next five years, the value of properties in KL is definitely a hot topic amongst my peers. I cannot help but wonder if this is a trade-off of a prosperous and thriving developing nation.

Basic economics would tell me if there is a demand, there needs to be supply. Nowadays, modern living has enabled a thriving society, where having a good coffee shop around the corner is a must. Not just any kopitiam, but good quality coffee with good quality beans and a good barista with a good ambience. Having a good coffee shop is indicative and reflective of the demands of the society within that neighbourhood. Thus, the supply of many coffee shops we see nowadays.

However, with such a standard where coffee costing at least RM10 is acceptable, I would think it only comes naturally that the value of properties go up. Because clearly, gone are the woes and complaints of coffee costing RM15. Everyone has found a way to embrace, and enjoy it. Otherwise, why the sudden influx of coffee shops everywhere?

It used to be that the cost of properties would be high in KL that people moved to the outskirts, or to the satellite cities. But truth be told, now you see the cost of properties in the outskirts of KL also on the rise.

I realise that gentrification would mean people buying cheap houses, and then bringing with them changes to the area that would later on increase the price of the area.

The debate surrounding gentrification is of course, people who have lived in the area all their lives can no longer afford to live there. The living cost of a particular area has risen significantly.

In one way, it is unfair to both parties. It’s unfair for the old to have to move out because they cannot cope with the rising cost. It is also unfair for the young, who have paid a hefty price for their condominiums to enjoy the benefits of the newly “gentrified” area — the safety, the convenience of having Cold Storage or Jaya Grocers around the corner. They would also deserve the profits from the investment of purchasing their house if they ever think of selling it in five years’ time.

Some quick searches have also tried to prove my thoughts of gentrification being a problem wrong. It might yield more benefits, and is not causing the emigration of the lower-income group, some would say. Or, others would also say it’s the rising cost of living and price of properties that are causing gentrification.

It’s not gentrification that is causing the rising cost of properties. Gentrification also creates safer homes and reduces crime rates.

So, how do we strike a balance on gentrification? The youngsters would have contributed to the economy with the opening of attractive shops, fitness studios and coffee shops. It’s the basics of providing customers and clients to the kedai runcit, or customers to the local mamak stalls. It might also, however, increase traffic jams and also masses of double-parked cars. And, it would now be difficult to the local uncle to afford his RM1.20 kopi. Or worse, upset him because his favourite local kopitiam has been demolished to make way for a new mall, which also meets the demands of the residents around it.

How do we strike a balance of ensuring that the flow of traffic is well-maintained? How do we ensure that our beloved big green trees are not chopped down?

At the end of the day, I realise that everyone plays the role that they are meant to play. The development companies are doing their job of bringing in the highest profits and looking for the next best locations to be commercialised.

The youth, like me, are looking for a better and “cooler” place to hang out. The adults are looking for more innovative and creative food outlets. And of course, the pak cik just wants his decade-long home and his friendly kopitiam. I know the rights and the roles that NGOS and housing communities play in this situation. The residents speak up, because they know what it is like to live in the area. And, they know the woes of gentrification.

But this here, is another “first world problem” that I think our developing nation faces. As a youth who is probably responsible for this “gentrification” subconsciously, it’s a problem as much as it is a solution as we take a step further into becoming a “developed nation”.

Reading the articles on gentrification and the attack on the Cereal Café in Shoreditch, London, was fascinating for me because I realise sooner or later, we would have “a Shoreditch” of our own. We would also probably have a cereal café charging customers nearly RM50 for a bowl of cereal. And of course, Instagram would respond and contribute highly to the monthly revenues. Ah, development!

The writer, a granddaughter of Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra al-Haj, is a fresh law graduate trying hard to find her place after spending some time at the University of Manchester in England. Always probing into discussions, she most often regrets not doing Politics, Philosophy and Economics

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