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Friday, December 10, 2004
Interconnections. 'Move on up', on London, housing and politics, a Guardian article by Andy Beckett examining the origins and impact of gentrification, starting with the middle class adoption of the London Borough of Islington in the 1960s, and using the much-publicised house moves of the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, as a starting point.

The term 'gentrification' was coined by Ruth Glass, a sociologist, in her 1964 book, London: Aspects of Change. Glass noted how Islington's demographics were being altered by an influx of middle classes, leading to a corresponding rise in property prices and the exit of the traditional working class and immigrant populations. The Guardian article cites an original resident of the now upscale Barnsbury describing gentrification as 'sharp practice.... an overt conspiracy.' That huge demographic shifts have taken place is plain to see (for example, the most exclusive streets in Islington).

Gentrification is still rampant today, with corresponding downsides and controversies (see The Middle Classes and the Future of London (pdf), which notes that although certain parts of the capital have become accepted 'middle class enclaves', there is no increased interaction between social groups in these areas - a 'low social obligation'). Although gentrification is hailed by some as a welcome means of securing urban regeneration without the use of public money, there is the often unspoken accusation that it is simply reversing the suburban exodus (so-called 'white flight') of the post-war years, and that communities remain polarised.

The racial issues raised in the Guardian piece (musician Eddy Grant, who owned one of the Islington houses before Blair, is quoted as saying "[for me], the speed with which the black people went out of the area... was very strange.") mean that politicians and commentators tread carefully around the subject. Fascinatingly, Glass's husband, the late David Victor Glass, turns up on Eugenics Watch as a member of the British Eugenics Society. Glass was the first research secretary at the LSE's Population Investigation Committee, so his membership was probably strictly out of professional interest (as were, no doubt, his collecting habits).

Eugenics is understandably hugely controversial, so it was surprising to find that the Eugenics Society morphed into the still-existant Galton Institute (named for Sir Francis Galton, Charles Darwin's first half-cousin, and the inventor of the word 'eugenics.' Another early eugenecist was Alexander Graham Bell, whose experiments with the telephone allegedly grew out of his designs for a new kind of hearing aid (more information at Deaf Culture, and in 'Bell's Golden Vaporware,' by Bruce Sterling).

Bell's extensive work with language and elocution (his name is still born by the Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing) led him to become worried about the creation, through inter-breeding, of an entirely deaf strand of the human race, hence his interest in eugenics. Strange how inventions and intentions can morph from originally sinister origins into benign devices: it's largely forgotten, for example, that the eugenics movement was once widely feted and had a hand not only in the origins of birth control but even marriage counselling (initiated by Paul Bowman Popenoe with the foundation of the American Institute for Family Relations in the inter-war years as a means of promoting the continuation of the family).

It's hard to search about any of this stuff without walking straight into a virtual quagmire (this metafilter post is a good example). However, this piece, The impact of eugenic thought on research into human behaviour (from Genetics and Human Behaviour: The Ethical Context) is a good overview of shifting societal (and scientific) attitudes, as is this piece, Perfectly Awful, in the Arriviste Press. The links between post-war urban reconstruction, demographics, and social engineering are murky but probably worth exploring in more depth, with the legacy of Charles Booth extending deep into the twentieth century.

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Elsewhere. File Magazine presents a collection of unexpected photographs / make your own snowflake / nice to be mentioned in these comments about web magazines. Some we picked up from the links: The Black Table (especially their picture archive), The Simon, music at Nude as the News and Cozy Tone, Facsimilation (who 'specialize in not specializing in anything') and The High Hat, which runs quirky pieces like Feeling like a Tool: Demons and the Working Girl on "Buffy".

Sisters Petra and Nicole Kaptiza make beautiful geometric art and illustration / Dream Anatomy, via Boing Boing / orbit1, a photolog (via conscientious) / the Society for HandHeld Hushing offers a handy pdf (via coudal) / off the telly, huge collection of essays and information about the UK TV industry / the 100 oldest dotcom registrations (via kottke).

How We Work, a fascinating survey of the creative process. Also relevant, the upcoming New New Journalism, by Robert Boynton / bricolage, hand-made books from the think collective (via netdiver) / Coneyhurst Paper Collectable, an ebay store / the Pixiediscs weblog / an incredible high-rise restaurant in Bangkok / The Old Car Manual Project, always worth a visit / buy Italdesign's Aztec concept car on Italian ebay, an 80s classic.