Gentrification is a major problem in many neighbourhoods in cities around the world. Groups of residents in Bristol, UK, have been organising to reclaim some of the land and properties vital to their community.
Stokes Croft now faces the same threat of gentrification as so many equivalent inner-city neighbourhoods. Over the past few years, Bristol has seen astronomical rises in the cost of housing, fuelled in part by its popularity as an alternative to London, and accompanied by rampant development, as companies seek to cash in on the cultural value created by local communities over decades.
They are doing so by rekindling the concept of the commons, of collectively benefiting from a resource, and collectively taking stewardship of it. Nick Hayes, author of the Book of Trespass—an exploration of land ownership, enclosure and exclusion in England—has his own short definition:
“You get rights to a resource if you put in the work for it. It’s that simple. You show it a bit of love and you get a bit of love back.”
Usually found in the context of agricultural land or public space, the concept is also used here as a vision for local economic activity, to “keep money local and stop money being extracted by speculation.” It’s also found in bringing buildings into community ownership through a Community Land Trust, or CLT.
The first CLT, New Communities Inc., was founded in 1969 by a group of African-American sharecroppers, who wanted to create sustainable housing after being forced from their homes due to registering to vote in Albany, Georgia – a town which was a flashpoint for the civil rights movement.”
The challenges and solutions in Bristol are yet more indicators of a constant struggle between ever-present private property and shared commons enjoyed by all. Communities working together, versus private ownership through corporations.
“Community shares is a term that we’ve coined, which refers to withdrawable shares in a society. A ‘society’ is a legal form, similar to a company or a community interest company. Its purpose is social. You’re not buying shares for a financial return, you’re buying shares for the social return.”
Some solutions are there, they need broader visibility and a lot of work from each community.
Image: © Stokes Croft Land Trust