Worlds collide in photographer Zed Nelson’s debut feature-length documentary which focuses solely on one of the poorest streets in East London, Hoxton Street, and its gradual gentrification over a four-year period.
The film opens on a sequence of still shots exhibiting a variety of quaint restaurants, pubs, bakeries, garages and carpet shops. The setting then swiftly changes to a middle-aged homeless man named Serge who sleeps under a bridge. He gets up and climbs up to the road, out of his reality and into the exasperating struggle to survive. Meanwhile, shop owners open their doors in a parallel effort to keep their heads above water in the rapidly changing economic environment.
The film immediately cultivates a strong sense of community as born and bred locals proudly discuss their deep roots in the area. As a result of gentrification, we see many of the beloved, antiquated shops close down, inciting an intense anti-change sentiment among the locals. The drastic increase in rent causes the poor to be pushed out. There are fights over council housing, and when a newly arrived family is offered a place, the bitterness of the locals is immense.
Nelson’s dedication to balance is what makes The Street so compelling. It would have been very easy to portray capitalism and social change as the villains, but in this film, the locals’ toxic, overwhelming traditionalism (and the racism that often drives it) is also explored as part of the problem. There is a barrier between the wave of new generations – who, in a way, form a fresh community albeit with little social awareness – frequenting chic art galleries and the more working class locals queuing up for food in the cold, looking through the glass window.
Being born, living and dying in the same place, is an old-fashioned, dispensable concept. Hoxton street is changing – it’s fierce, exciting, wild, surrounded by concrete skyscrapers, poverty and opulence. All these elements muddle together vie for space. Yet the social framework for an under-privileged young person growing up in the area is a million years away from the urban hipsters who visit the stylish bars on the same street.